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Dharma Diagnostic Clinic, aka "What was that?"

Odd experience. Seeking diagnosis and advice.

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Hello. How's life? Good I hope. Swimmingly good, I hope.

Before I leap into describing my recent odd reflective experience, I feel I should make clear where I stand medatatively--that is: essentially nowhere. I am new to the Dhamma, having only recently discovered it these past six months, and I have never had a personal teacher, nor have I ever been on any retreats. I have read only a handful of dhamma books including Daniel Ingrim's Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book, What the Buddha Taught, by Dr Walpola Rahula, the Dhammapada, and perhaps three or four others of varying degrees of helpfulness. I have meditated only minimally, perhaps fifty or sixty hours in sum. I have listened to Dhamma talks by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana of the Bhavana Society as well as talks by Bhante Rahula that were also posted on the Bhavana website.

In short: I have essentially NO experience with the Dhamma and am as neophyte a fledgling as they come.

That said...

Last Wednesday, (December 28th, 2011), I was practicing a sort of walking meditation while vacuuming a lobby at my workplace. The subject of the meditation was "Locating the Self" as it had been for perhaps two or three days. I was casually attempting to locate the Self, refining my search by means of my understanding of physiology. Self seemed to be confined to consciousness. So I probed what I meant by consciousness. To me, consciousness seemed to be comprised of only three parts: Sensory information, memory, and decisions. The brain takes in sensory information (both internal and external) and checks it against memories to make a decision and take an action in response. Well, a Self was certainly not simply sensory information, nor was a Self memory, since a Self could be maintained even if these things were removed. The Self then had to be the DECIDER who made the decisions based off of the sensory input and memories. Thus, I had narrowed the location of a Self to the thalamus, which takes in information and relays it to the appropriate cortices.

I developed a visual image of the Self as a sort of industrious little man seated behind an incredible control panel. Before him were monitors covering the walls. These monitors read off immense amounts of data: visual data, auditory data, olfactory data, proprioceptive data, emotional data, etc.... This man was the thalamus, the decision-maker, the Self that observed and acted in response to its environment.

But as I watched this man, this Self, at work, I began to recall those bits and pieces of genetics (heredity) and physics (causality) that had long ago convinced me that free will does not exist. All choices and decisions that I make are made as a result of my peculiar geneolgy and the sum total of the things that have happened to me. As I considered these things, the man in my imagined Self transformed into a series of pulleys. Suddenly, the individual had vanished. There was no more deciding Self---rather there was only a machine that took in input, checked it against memories, and output action accordingly. The seat of Self had suddenly transformed from a conscious man into an enormous (and immensely complex) nesting of if/then statements defined by genetics and experience.

In this moment, I was struck utterly dumb, and a feeling of stupor fell over me. I paused my vacuuming and stood silent and stupefied--but for how long, I cannot say. The next half hour passed strangely. I felt an emptiness that was not at all unpleasant that persists even now into the present (though a touch more subdued than it was at its onset). The first-person pronouns seemed meaningless suddenly. To say that I was standing in a room was no different from saying that a couch was standing in a room. In fact, all distinctions between myself and inanimate objects (or animals) seemed to be blurred. A couch was simply a compendium of matter that reacted to the stresses of its environment according to its nature. I was no different from a couch.

I phoned a friend who had considerably more experience in these matters than I had, and he advised me to do three things: One: let it go. Wonderful advice. Clutching would do me no good. Two: He recommended I find a teacher. And Three: He directed me here, saying that someone might have an idea what has happened to me.

For the next several days, I attempted to let the feeling go. I did not want to jump to conclusions. I felt (and still feel) that I had extinguished my Self, but I was struck by the nagging feeling that I had not spent enough hours on the cushion to have truly extinguished my Self. Or rather, I should say, I was struck with the mild observation that a feeling existed---and the feeling that existed was that I SHOULD think that I haven't put in enough time on the cushion, because my understanding had been that Self-Annihilation takes years of industrious practice.

At present, the feeling of Self-Annihilation persists. It has been now nearly six days since the "incident" and and I see no indication of my returning to the former world of Self. My current "symptoms" that I here present in hope of diagnosis are these:

---All feelings and emotions are present, but subdued. I feel the physical sensation of something, say irritation, but it does not move me or influence me. I see my own irritation as I might see someone else's. I note that it exists and move on.

---Preferences seem to have gone almost entirely away. No state is felt to be preferred to another. No activity is found to be any more fulfilling than any other. Everything is perfectly acceptable.

---I am profoundly at peace with the notion of my own death. Were I to die this very moment, I'd be fine with it.

---My neutral mood is emptiness. It is not pleasant. It is not unpleasant. It is simply nothing. It is a nothing that I am in no hurry to be rid of, however.

---I no longer take offense to personal insult. Example: I have blue hair. It is blue because I am an actor and have recently performed a character who had blue hair. Up until Wednesday, I had taken great offense to comments about my hair, even turning to spit insulting remarks at those who mocked (or, I admit, even mentioned) my hair in public. However on Friday, a man from Indiana whom I met at a bus stop spoke at length of my hair looking like one of his roosters, and I smiled earnestly and told him that was "fantastic". We spoke pleasantly for the remainder of our encounter. Thinking back on this still makes me chuckle.

---Residual "self-type thoughts" exist, but they are immediately recognized as such and discarded without influencing my behavior. In the past, I would occasionally recognize these sorts of thoughts, but only on deliberate examination. Now, noticing them feels automatic. They are seen much as an adult sees the actions of a child. They are not bad. They are not villainous or wicked (even when naughty). They are simply a bit immature---but immature without the the negative connotation. Perhaps "undeveloped" is a more fitting word.

---My behavior has been radically altered in that I am now much more willing to engage in activities that, before Wednesday, seem to be not worth my time. I cleaned out my wardrobe, reducing it by half--a task that no threat on Earth could have convinced me to engage in before Wednesday. I am also helping others out with their own "meaningless" tasks. Washing their dishes. Taking out their garbage. Buying them things that they want. I recently bought a computer game for a friend with money that I had set aside to buy my own computer game. I no longer care at all about the game. And the money seems utterly meaningless.

---My speech has become more direct. I find myself saying things that catch people by surprise. I make observations like "You care a great deal what others think of you," and "You do not THINK your idea is right--you FEEL that it is. Think about your notion. Reason it out. You will come to <some other person's> conclusion." Before Wednesday, these sort of sentences seemed rude. Now they simply seem true.

This post has become overlong, so I shall now begin wrapping it up.

If any, upon reading this have any insights to share, I would appreciate their sharing those insights.

Very best wishes, and happy days to you all!

RE: Odd experience. Seeking diagnosis and advice.
Answer
1/3/12 4:13 PM as a reply to Brandon Michael Ghislain.
Hey Brandon, welcome to the DhO!

Without dissecting your entire post and trying to line things up with this or that, I'd say that you've had a profound insight leading to the realization of no-self. Whether or not this has led to one of the Paths of enlightenment, I don't know but your description of your current experience sounds promising and if it's led you to question your experience further then all the better.

If you have gotten stream entry then it's up to you how you proceed; you could do vipassana and go through the insight paths; you could look into AF; you could learn TWIM; there are plenty of ways to proceed depending on what you're looking for through these practices. I think the most important thing is to get into a regular meditation routine and practice well, whichever way you go this will stand you in good stead and keep you sharp.

If you haven't gotten stream entry then the advice is the same, but landing 1st path is worthwhile regardless of what you choose to do after that point. And if you did get stream entry then you'll know why I'm saying thing... emoticon

Everything you're describing sounds familiar to me, and I'm sure plenty of others would agree, so you've definitely gotten into some fairly advanced states here and I have no doubt that you'll find whatever you're still looking for. Most likely starting with this site!

RE: Odd experience. Seeking diagnosis and advice.
Answer
1/3/12 5:10 PM as a reply to Brandon Michael Ghislain.
Sounds like great fun. Don't be too discouraged if the clarity and equanimity should subside. Whatever this experience is (sounds like the stuff Direct Pointing people aim for), you're in the honeymoon period. Now is probably an excellent time to meditate a lot ;)

RE: Odd experience. Seeking diagnosis and advice.
Answer
1/4/12 11:45 AM as a reply to Tommy M.
Thank you very much. I know that post was overlong, and I really appreciate your help!

I'm still floundering a bit with the terminology and acronyms. What are AF and TWIM? And where might I learn about both them and the insight paths?

Many many thanks!

RE: Odd experience. Seeking diagnosis and advice.
Answer
1/4/12 2:16 PM as a reply to Brandon Michael Ghislain.
Brandon Michael Ghislain:
Hello. How's life? Good I hope. Swimmingly good, I hope.

Before I leap into describing my recent odd reflective experience, I feel I should make clear where I stand medatatively--that is: essentially nowhere. I am new to the Dhamma, having only recently discovered it these past six months, and I have never had a personal teacher, nor have I ever been on any retreats. I have read only a handful of dhamma books including Daniel Ingrim's Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book, What the Buddha Taught, by Dr Walpola Rahula, the Dhammapada, and perhaps three or four others of varying degrees of helpfulness. I have meditated only minimally, perhaps fifty or sixty hours in sum. I have listened to Dhamma talks by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana of the Bhavana Society as well as talks by Bhante Rahula that were also posted on the Bhavana website.

In short: I have essentially NO experience with the Dhamma and am as neophyte a fledgling as they come.

That said...

Last Wednesday, (December 28th, 2011), I was practicing a sort of walking meditation while vacuuming a lobby at my workplace. The subject of the meditation was "Locating the Self" as it had been for perhaps two or three days. I was casually attempting to locate the Self, refining my search by means of my understanding of physiology. Self seemed to be confined to consciousness. So I probed what I meant by consciousness. To me, consciousness seemed to be comprised of only three parts: Sensory information, memory, and decisions. The brain takes in sensory information (both internal and external) and checks it against memories to make a decision and take an action in response. Well, a Self was certainly not simply sensory information, nor was a Self memory, since a Self could be maintained even if these things were removed. The Self then had to be the DECIDER who made the decisions based off of the sensory input and memories. Thus, I had narrowed the location of a Self to the thalamus, which takes in information and relays it to the appropriate cortices.

I developed a visual image of the Self as a sort of industrious little man seated behind an incredible control panel. Before him were monitors covering the walls. These monitors read off immense amounts of data: visual data, auditory data, olfactory data, proprioceptive data, emotional data, etc.... This man was the thalamus, the decision-maker, the Self that observed and acted in response to its environment.

But as I watched this man, this Self, at work, I began to recall those bits and pieces of genetics (heredity) and physics (causality) that had long ago convinced me that free will does not exist. All choices and decisions that I make are made as a result of my peculiar geneolgy and the sum total of the things that have happened to me. As I considered these things, the man in my imagined Self transformed into a series of pulleys. Suddenly, the individual had vanished. There was no more deciding Self---rather there was only a machine that took in input, checked it against memories, and output action accordingly. The seat of Self had suddenly transformed from a conscious man into an enormous (and immensely complex) nesting of if/then statements defined by genetics and experience.

In this moment, I was struck utterly dumb, and a feeling of stupor fell over me. I paused my vacuuming and stood silent and stupefied--but for how long, I cannot say. The next half hour passed strangely. I felt an emptiness that was not at all unpleasant that persists even now into the present (though a touch more subdued than it was at its onset). The first-person pronouns seemed meaningless suddenly. To say that I was standing in a room was no different from saying that a couch was standing in a room. In fact, all distinctions between myself and inanimate objects (or animals) seemed to be blurred. A couch was simply a compendium of matter that reacted to the stresses of its environment according to its nature. I was no different from a couch.

I phoned a friend who had considerably more experience in these matters than I had, and he advised me to do three things: One: let it go. Wonderful advice. Clutching would do me no good. Two: He recommended I find a teacher. And Three: He directed me here, saying that someone might have an idea what has happened to me.

For the next several days, I attempted to let the feeling go. I did not want to jump to conclusions. I felt (and still feel) that I had extinguished my Self, but I was struck by the nagging feeling that I had not spent enough hours on the cushion to have truly extinguished my Self. Or rather, I should say, I was struck with the mild observation that a feeling existed---and the feeling that existed was that I SHOULD think that I haven't put in enough time on the cushion, because my understanding had been that Self-Annihilation takes years of industrious practice.

At present, the feeling of Self-Annihilation persists. It has been now nearly six days since the "incident" and and I see no indication of my returning to the former world of Self. My current "symptoms" that I here present in hope of diagnosis are these:

---All feelings and emotions are present, but subdued. I feel the physical sensation of something, say irritation, but it does not move me or influence me. I see my own irritation as I might see someone else's. I note that it exists and move on.

---Preferences seem to have gone almost entirely away. No state is felt to be preferred to another. No activity is found to be any more fulfilling than any other. Everything is perfectly acceptable.

---I am profoundly at peace with the notion of my own death. Were I to die this very moment, I'd be fine with it.

---My neutral mood is emptiness. It is not pleasant. It is not unpleasant. It is simply nothing. It is a nothing that I am in no hurry to be rid of, however.

---I no longer take offense to personal insult. Example: I have blue hair. It is blue because I am an actor and have recently performed a character who had blue hair. Up until Wednesday, I had taken great offense to comments about my hair, even turning to spit insulting remarks at those who mocked (or, I admit, even mentioned) my hair in public. However on Friday, a man from Indiana whom I met at a bus stop spoke at length of my hair looking like one of his roosters, and I smiled earnestly and told him that was "fantastic". We spoke pleasantly for the remainder of our encounter. Thinking back on this still makes me chuckle.

---Residual "self-type thoughts" exist, but they are immediately recognized as such and discarded without influencing my behavior. In the past, I would occasionally recognize these sorts of thoughts, but only on deliberate examination. Now, noticing them feels automatic. They are seen much as an adult sees the actions of a child. They are not bad. They are not villainous or wicked (even when naughty). They are simply a bit immature---but immature without the the negative connotation. Perhaps "undeveloped" is a more fitting word.

---My behavior has been radically altered in that I am now much more willing to engage in activities that, before Wednesday, seem to be not worth my time. I cleaned out my wardrobe, reducing it by half--a task that no threat on Earth could have convinced me to engage in before Wednesday. I am also helping others out with their own "meaningless" tasks. Washing their dishes. Taking out their garbage. Buying them things that they want. I recently bought a computer game for a friend with money that I had set aside to buy my own computer game. I no longer care at all about the game. And the money seems utterly meaningless.

---My speech has become more direct. I find myself saying things that catch people by surprise. I make observations like "You care a great deal what others think of you," and "You do not THINK your idea is right--you FEEL that it is. Think about your notion. Reason it out. You will come to <some other person's> conclusion." Before Wednesday, these sort of sentences seemed rude. Now they simply seem true.

This post has become overlong, so I shall now begin wrapping it up.

If any, upon reading this have any insights to share, I would appreciate their sharing those insights.

Very best wishes, and happy days to you all!


welcome to the dho.

my best guess is that you attained stream-entry, despite your account's overall lack of the typical phenomenological descriptors usually looked to, in the mahasi tradition as well as in ingram's hyper-technical path model, for its indication. i have bolded some things you wrote above which support this notion. as many of those highlighted bits may also indicate a practitioner who has recently passed through the knowledge of arising and passing away in a particularly stable and skilful way, however, this diagnosis is far from certain, and even were it to be more certain, such certitude can only ever be a best guess.

a question worth asking, which may be indicative, is how do you want to live your life now? is there anything or are there any things in particular that make(s) more sense to attend to now, more so than other things? what's on your mind?

tarin

RE: Odd experience. Seeking diagnosis and advice.
Answer
1/4/12 3:21 PM as a reply to Brandon Michael Ghislain.
Don't worry about overlong posts, it's par for the course when trying to describe some of this stuff and pretty common on here.

I'm still floundering a bit with the terminology and acronyms. What are AF and TWIM? And where might I learn about both them and the insight paths?

Sorry about using acronyms without links or explanation, I'll list a few good links to some stuff and see if it's of any use to you:

AF is Actual Freedom, a distinctly non-spiritual approach but effective nonetheless. The best places I know to find out more about it are the Actual Freedom Trust and the Practices Inspired by Actualism category on this site. With the AFT site, some people find the layout and language a bit off-putting at first but it's worth giving it a chance and reading into it a bit more. There are a few people in here who've gotten AF and who are great to talk to for more information on the subject. If you see terms like PCE, which means "pure consciousness experience", or EE, which means "excellent experience" then chances are it's a discussion about AF.

TWIM is Tranquil Wisdom Insight Meditation, which is a sutta based approach taught on the Dhammasukkha website. It differs from the approach most commonly used on here, Mahasi noting, and doesn't seperate concentration from insight practice. For some people it's more effective and pleasant than the insight Paths and may even lead to the same outcome as that aimed at through the practices involved in the Actualist approach.


Like I said, it depends on which approach works best for you but, given that Tarin also suggests that you've gotten stream entry, the field is wide open at this point so go with the flow and practice well.

RE: Odd experience. Seeking diagnosis and advice.
Answer
1/10/12 10:00 PM as a reply to tarin greco.
tarin greco:


...as many of those highlighted bits may also indicate a practitioner who has recently passed through the knowledge of arising and passing away in a particularly stable and skilful way, however, this diagnosis is far from certain, and even were it to be more certain, such certitude can only ever be a best guess.

a question worth asking, which may be indicative, is how do you want to live your life now? is there anything or are there any things in particular that make(s) more sense to attend to now, more so than other things? what's on your mind?

tarin



I believe my experience was not the attainment of first path. I believe that instead I had a drawn out experience of passing through the knowledge of arising and passing away. I am inclined to think in this direction because I have spent the past several days (four or five or six, I'm not exactly certain) with what feels like a Dharma hangover. I've since reread Ingram's writings on the paths of insight (as well as a similar essay by Venerable Phra Dhama Theerarach Mahamuni) and identified with various stages that Ingram includes in what he terms "the Dark Night".

I continue to practice insight training as much as I can, but I find this currently difficult. I am distracted often by content. There is also the feeling that I'm caught in a sort of no-man's land in which I cannot seem to make any more progress, but I can never go back to the way I was because nothing will ever be the same. I have faith that continuing insight practices will be beneficial, but I'm beginning to feel as though my efforts are somewhat futile.

In response to the question of 'what do I now want to do': I want to attain to first path. I feel as though I'm hanging by my fingertips off the edge of a cliff, my options being to drop down to the ground or to struggle and pull myself up. Having seen the top of the cliff, I can no longer imagine returning to the ground, so I wish to press on to first path.

Many thanks for your insights and appraisals. Might I please ask you all one more question? Assuming (and only assuming) that I am caught up somewhere within the Dark Night, is there anything else I should do other than continuing with insight practices? I'm doing a lot of noting what is mind and what is body and also seeing the three characteristics in all that I can. Is there someplace in particular I should look for help ?

Again, I offer many thanks.