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Dharma Diagnostic Clinic, aka "What was that?"

Please, help me to understand where I am.

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I just finished a 10 day retreat in Goenka Meditation Center in Massachusetts (I came back on November 29. It is my first retreat and I went determined to make the most out of it. Well, now I feel that I would never want to go to any Goenka Center again. It seemed to be a sect with a personality cult in many subtle ways. They claim that you can practice any religion and they just will teach you the technique. But all through retreat Goenka is constantly chanting Buddhist scriptures; make you to take refuge in Triple Gem e.t.c. I follow a Buddhist path, so I don’t have a problem with it, but I didn’t feel it was right. Besides, they were not pushing Buddhism, but rather Goenka’s version of it. The assistant teachers were not helpful at all. Whenever asked a question, they would just repeat the same thing that we just heard on the tape. When I had some experiences or when I made a progress faster then the instructions on the tape, they simply were not interested. It looked like they were programmed themselves. However, the setting allowed me to go deeper in my concentration, then I was ever able before, and now I desperately need help in figuring out where I am on the map of insight.

So, we started with following our breath for 3 days, and then turned to body scanning. The very first time we sat in Vipassana for one hour without movement on the 4th day (strong determination sitting) I began to experience a very strong pain in the legs and in the back. The instructions were to scan the whole body part by part disregarding pain and not giving any special attention to it. I found that I was unable to do that and keep the same body position and remain equinimous, so eventually I began to observe the pain. With understanding that it consists of separate sensations that appear and disappear, I started to concentrate on the pain to dissect in into sensations of heat, pressure etc. The pain was very strong, particularly in the legs, so I had very strong motivation. I was able to perceive sensations more and more clearly, and by that time I felt strong vibrations in my head, and all parts of my body. Sometimes I would go over the body quickly to feel the vibrations, and then to scan some blind areas, where I didn’t feel much, and the blind areas would start to vibrate also, and then I would return to the legs. Eventually I reached the point where the pain in the legs disappeared, it seemed like the feeling of the legs disappeared, and all I experienced were waves of vibrations. It felt like they were not repeating the shape of my body, it was more like a sphere, and the strong waves of vibrations were bringing ecstasy of physical orgasm. There was a brief interval when I lost the feeling of my body; all I experienced were those orgasmic waves in the shape of a sphere. Then I started to regain the sense of the body, and then Mr. Goenka started chanting, it meant that the hour was over. After about 5 min of chanting, we were allowed to take a bathroom break, I went outside, I was all shaking uncontrollably.
On the next day I noticed that the tension under the left shoulder blade which was the reason of my back pain for about 2 years was totally gone. Completely. I am not sure that it was gone after this particular meditation, but it was gone.

The next day it was easy for me to feel vibrations. I would feel vibrations in all body while meditating, not even meditating, just closing my eyes and taking a few conscious breaths. Not as strong as that first time. But fine very enjoyable vibrations all through my body. They were intensified in the head. Sometimes I would feel a very strong pressure on my head. I felt as if I could break through something and go deeper but I felt that my mind wasn’t concentrated enough to do that. I felt somewhat attached to my previous experience and tried to repeat it, but I couldn’t. I abandoned the sensations and went back to concentration on the breath, for several hours. I still felt vibrations in the head but I ignored them. On the next day, encouraged by the teacher I went back to sensations. It was very easy for me to start feeling fine subtle vibrations in all body intensified in the head. That day I started feeling vibration when I wasn’t meditating at all. It was enough to just be present to any gross sensation, such as stepping of the foot on the floor, or the wind on the skin, or touching. If I was present to any physical sensation, I would feel very pleasant subtle waves of vibrations throughout the body. And I felt them practically all day long and a part of the next day. After that they became less distinct.

In the last 3 days of the retreat I started experiencing burning pain on the right side of my back. Feeling as if a burning match, an electric cord or a large area of flame. My previous 2 years old pain on the left side was gone completely and without a trace. Again, I ignored their instructions and started looking into pain directly and try to perceive individual sensation and the beginning and ending of each sensation. Sometimes, it seemed that when I was very concentrated and precise, the pain would disappear. Sometimes, it would still be there, excruciating. Now, I am back at home. I came back last Sunday. I was sitting 2 hours a day on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Every time I sat on Sunday and Monday the pain was very intense, and in between the sitting, this area would still feel hot and burned by the prior pain. Yesterday, that is on Tuesday morning, I sat for my morning hour, and I started experiencing my usual pain, and then by the end of the hour a strong heat came to the right side of my neck and right shoulder, but it was pleasant heat and it was straightening and relaxing my body (which was contracted by the terrible burning pain in the back). Then my timer rang, and I laid down on the floor and I started experiencing subtle pleasant waves of vibrations throughout all body.

When I sat in the evening, I experienced some pain in the right side of the back, but very little and quite tolerable. Today I didn’t meditate yet.

I am sorry for the long post. If somebody out there has the patience to read the whole of it, and to help me to understand where I am, I will really appreciate it.

RE: Please, help me to understand where I am.
Answer
12/2/09 5:39 PM as a reply to Yuliya Yakhontova.
P.S. I would like to add that I was going to this retreat with a desperate crazy desire to renounce the world and to practice, practice and practice. Then when I started experiencing vibrations all day long, my desparation wasn't there anymore. I felt some kind of peace. I felt much more balanced. In the end of the retreat when I started having a burning back pain - I felt exhausted. I wanted to continue practicing, but I also wanted to go home. Now at home, I am ready and I will continue practicing but this desperate desire which was driving me crazy before retreat is gone.

Today, I just sat for one hour. I was mostly concentrating on the breath and then in the end - just started feeling the sensations of the body - choiceless awareness. By the end of the hour I felt a slight tension and a few slight sensations of pain on the right side of the back where I used to have a burning pain just yesterday.

Before retreat and for some time on the retreat I was strictly following the guidelines of meditation given in the books of by teachers. Somewhere on the retreat I started having an intuitive feeling what I need to do next, some kind of discriminative knowing. And I was trying to fight this feeling and to still follow the instructions, or the ideas of my mind, like one hour of concentration, then body scanning etc. But I felt that it was unproductive and I allowed myself to follow my inner knowing.
Am I deluded? Sometimes I don't know what to do next. Before this retreat I was following Mahasi noting method and tried to concentrate on rising and falling of the abdomen. Now I don't know anymore. But when I sit to meditate - I feel like I really do know. And at first I feel my breath, and then when I feel that it's time - I start feeling my body all at once. If I have pain - then I go into pain, if there is no pain - then the whole body. Sometimes I go into body scanning, but not for long, and I return to feeling all body.
Am I deluded?

All in all I feel much more balanced than before retreat.
I don't want to be anywhere specifically. I just want to know where I am. I know that I must be somewhere on the path after all this. But I don't know where.


Also, I never really noticed Mind and Body, but before the retreat and for first 3 days on retreat noting was interfering with breath, so I think I was in Cause and Effect.

RE: Please, help me to understand where I am.
Answer
12/3/09 7:50 AM as a reply to Yuliya Yakhontova.
I was thinking over all my experiences and my post, and now I would like to add that though I didn't like some aspects of organizational and ideological structure of VMS (Goenka Vipassana Meditation Society), all people I met there including teachers were really nice, and everything ecouraged hard, persistent work, concentration and dedication to practice. Also it is run on donation basis which gives opportunity to practice to many people who otherwise cannot afford it. All their setting allowed me to make what I think is a tremendous progress for me. I think it might have taken me years to make such progress at home. So, I just want to acknowledge my gratitude to VMS and to say that it is certainly possible to do deep and serious work here, especially if you don't focus on some of the aspects that you might not like, but instead focus on work.

Regarding my practice, I think that it is most likely that I am swinging back and forth between 3 characteristics and A&P event, right now I am still in 3 characteristics, and probably a lack of concentration doesn't allow me to make it past A&P.

RE: Please, help me to understand where I am.
Answer
12/3/09 8:12 AM as a reply to Yuliya Yakhontova.
Also, regarding the technique at VMS: they don't emphasize the importance of clearly perceiving the beginning and ending of each senstation, rather they talk about overall imperminance of all painful or plesurable sensations, and when I told teacher that I was doing it, she basically said that the most important is to develop equinimity regarding painful and enjoyable sensations. Goenka on his tapes says that we will experience a lot of painful sensations, then they will dissolve and we will experience totally transparent to sensations body and vibrations all throughout the body, but then painful sensations will come back. And there will be many cycles like this.

Does it look like going back and forth between 3 characteristics and A&P event and never making it past A&P?

I don't know. Just my speculations.

RE: Please, help me to understand where I am.
Answer
12/3/09 11:54 PM as a reply to Yuliya Yakhontova.
Hi Yuliya,
Thank you for your honest and detailed post, it makes interesting reading. Where as I am no master and there are a number of people in this community far more highly qualified to give you advice than I, I do hope that the following is of help. I have crossed the A&P quite a number of times and there are varying experiences of it. What we try to look for though to ascertain where we are at is what came before and what comes after. It appears to me, from my own experience, that all of your posture difficulties and concerns and back and neck pain are definetely three characteristics. Even at this point it is possible to have experiences where the body or parts of the body disappear. I had many experiences in 3-C that are similar to equanimity so it can be a little confusing at times. Also, you are correct in suggesting that you cannot attain to A&P because concentration and insight are not fine enough yet. Now, I have only ever been on one retreat over twenty years ago so my suggestion here may be a little off. Retreat means big momentum, lots of support, lots of experience and the capacity to attain to higher states. The whole body vibration thing you described may have been an A&P event and now, off retreat with the loss of momentum, you have dropped back to 3-C and perhaps also Mind and Body and Cause and Effect. What I noticed the first time I crossed A&P was a spontaneous broadening or expansion of consciousness. In this state, it is hard to focus on a single point and you should let your focus or attending move wide, because this is what your consciousness is naturally doing, so don't fight it, follow it like a puppy, let it lead you on into dissolution. If you haven't experienced this broadening, perhaps your whole body vibration was just another facet of 3-C. 3-C can be very colourful, I had many extraordinary expreriences during this time and many body flutter vibrations too. But probably what's more important is to maintain your endevour and focus and compassion toward self and your effort. If you remain calm and diligent and gentle, the pain will pass, insight will progress and A&P and beyond will occur. So, good luck, and best wishes. Thanks for your post. Hope this helps.
paul

RE: Please, help me to understand where I am.
Answer
12/4/09 7:26 AM as a reply to Paul Hurley.
Thank you Paul. I really appreciate your support and insight. One thing is for sure - my meditation did become much deeper and more engaging.

RE: Please, help me to understand where I am.
Answer
12/12/09 11:54 AM as a reply to Paul Hurley.
Hey, sorry it took me a while to answer your thorough and clear explanation of your experiences. I have been working a lot.

I think that the hard body pain in legs etc stuff was Three Characteristics, leading then to early A&P with the vibrations, leading to the really nice stages of the A&P with the deep bliss and pleasure.

As to whether you crossed the A&P event, time will tell.

The mistake people make is that when some aspect arises they stop investigating it, such as pleasure or some other form of rapture or interesting experience, they stop noticing that whatever it is comes and goes on its own rapidly also, as it is such a relief from the early stuff.

Whether or not this happened to you I don't know, whether that was just the heady parts of the A&P and you never got to the event, hard to tell.

What matters is what happens now. It is worth knowing that the Dark Night and Three Characteristics look a lot alike in some ways. Many experienced practitioners, including myself, had sometimes confused the one for the other in both directions. Thus, what matters is your practice.

Intuition is important: people who are willing to work with reality in creative, careful, insightful, intuitive ways often do better, so long as that is coupled with the standard warnings of the traps that tempt us along the path at each stage, the surmounting of which is not always that intuitive.

Keep going, let us know what happens if you wish, and we'll see if we can help you get to stream entry. The Three Characteristics of all sensations, pleasant, unpleasant and neutral, are key.

Helpful?

RE: Please, help me to understand where I am.
Answer
12/12/09 7:07 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Thank you, Daniel, for your post. I really appreciate your ecouragement.

Right now things mellowed down a lot. Back pain is practically totally gone. I can sit comfortably for an hour or longer. I don't feel any crazy vibrations any more. I am trying to work more on my concentration. Because I feel it is my weak link especially being off retreat.

Somehow I feel that before this retreat I was in Dark Night for years. (I had an interesting dream several years ago, which I described in one of my posts earlier in the summer) Before and after this dream I had depression on and off, fear or even terror of doing simple things such as going to work etc. Obsessions and fear about some situations with people and others... Right now I feel sad looking back. It seems that all this heavy stuff was lifted off me. I'm kind of afraid to get into this state again. I need all my positive outlook now to make my life work for me.

However, in some ways it seems that I don't have so much control over the object of my meditation or the method (concentration vs. insight). When I sit to meditate, I have some agenda about what I am going to do, but then I just feel whether it's better to concentrate on a narrow spot or to have all body awareness or to feel some particular sensation. So, I follow along. It seems like I don't have much say in this. Because when I try to do something different then what I feel - I just lose concentration.

I don't worry too much about where I am any more. I feel more balanced and positive and confident than ever before and I know that I am capable of actually meditating (silly?, but true - I wasn't sure of it). And I know that years from now I will see and understand much more. I just need to keep practicing, and maybe be to hit some other retreat as soon as opportunity comes.

I really appreciate this forum and all the information and all the support.

RE: Please, help me to understand where I am.
Answer
1/2/10 12:33 PM as a reply to Yuliya Yakhontova.
Easy meditation without worry about where you are smacks of Equanimity, so it could be that also.

Here's the point: let meditation happen. Resolve to get stream entry by letting it happen. If you are not in Equanimity, can't hurt. If you are, the simple fact of inclining the mind to it helps.

Read the section on Formations a few times. Really think about it and what it means. Read about No-self: that things happen on their own naturally. Let that happen while just staying with wherever the mind goes and whatever it does. Synchronize gently with reality and try that, letting it realize that reality is already synchronized with itself.

Find a way to talk to someone who has gotten stream entry.

Sorry for my delay in replying: I have been working a lot.

Happy New Year,

Daniel

RE: Please, help me to understand where I am.
Answer
1/17/10 8:25 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Thank you, Daniel. I didn't come to this forum for a while, so I only read your post today.

I had a thought that I could be in equanimity. However I definitely got pulled back now. Meditation sucks most of the time, hard to get myself to practice, often feel reactive and defensive in ordinary life. I remember the words from MCTB: something like "in dark night you could be living in paradize and not realizing it"

I am going to Metta Forest Monastery in California for 2 weeks in the end of February. And for now - just trying to be more disciplined in my meditation efforts and in everything else.

- Yuliya

RE: Please, help me to understand where I am.
Answer
1/18/10 12:16 AM as a reply to Yuliya Yakhontova.
I hope you have a great retreat.

Let us know how it goes if you wish, and realize that rising up and falling back and rising up and falling back is very normal and expected. Each time through, you get better at the territory, more used to it, just like anything else.

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