Where am I?

Andrew Stewart, modified 9 Years ago.

Where am I?

Posts: 52 Join Date: 2/27/12 Recent Posts
edit: I'm embarrased by how long this is. I think I might be mixing some irrelevant BS up with the relevant info, but I am just too tired to go over it now. I'll leave it up to see what happens but I'll get rid of it if it's not appropriate. thanks

Hello Dharma Overgrounders

I've been putting off writing this and looking for help for some weeks. My practice has almost entirely dissolved, slowly over the course of the past 3 or 4 months.

I think I am in the Dark Night, but I want to be very cautious as to where to place myself. I am weary of mistaking my psychology-neurotic "content" problems for Dark Night stuff. I feel very stuck and lost in my practice and I think some guiding voices from others would be of great help of finding out where I am on the map and how to best proceed. There have been times when reading MCTB that I seemed to fit the definition of Stream-Entry, but I am not exactly sure how its defined, so I can't be sure.

I've never really been able to share my experiences or journey in meditation with anyone, and during the most part of it I had no maps at all. This was detrimental in the sense that I never really tried to formulate the experiences I was having in a way I could explain to people (except for a short period after my first 10-day retreat, where I was quite evangelical about having discovered the "path of Truth" type thing and I tried explain it as best as I could to my family and friends). So I'm not quite sure how well I'll be able to recall my past experiences and explain them, and I'm not sure whether to construct this post chronologically or in order of states/insights I've had. I'm sorry if this gets quite long but I have a lot on my mind and am in quite desperate need of some guidance. So..

I've been meditating seriously since August 2008, when I took my first 10-day SN Goenka Vipassana retreat. This retreat changed my life in quite a big sense. At the end of Goenka's retreats, he advises students to practice 2h daily, which I took extremely seriously, as I literally believed that meditating was the only thing going to save me, and keep me from becoming even more suicidally depressed and messing up my entire life. I felt I had to do this and that my life depended on it, and practiced urgently, an hour each morning and each evening, without fail, no matter the crappy circumstances or little sleep i got (I had a kind of superstitious fear that if I missed a sitting, everything would go wrong).

On the 10th day of this first retreat, during Metta-bhavana I had my first "bhangha" experience where my body dissolved into very intense and disorienting energy. I felt as if the floor disappeared, and I was free-"falling" upwards, it was dizzying. I felt i was leaning so far to the left I would fall over and land on the ground, except I wasn't touching the ground because there wasn't a body, just energy rushing up from toe to head, like wind, in a breath-taking sort of fashion. It lasted maybe 20 - 40 seconds. While typing this I am wondering if this was A&P stuff, though while reading MTCB this never came to mind, and was quite mild in comparison to other experiences of similar nature.

I had my first A&P-seeming type experience was when I was 16. I was very depressed at this point in my life and was often tormented with very strong suicidal thoughts. I found myself skipping school one day, sat alone in a quiet part of town, and ended up crying my eyes out. I felt my body transform into very strong "bubble" like energy, like extremely intense pins and needles. My limbs contracted into my body involuntarily and uncontrollably, and i felt the largest love wave I ever experienced up to that point pour through me. It felt as if the blood in my body had stopped circulating (the intense vibration/tingling in my body) and the tears were loud, open and quite ecstatic. If someone saw me there in public they would have been quite shocked. Its hard to say how long it lasted, perhaps 5-20 minutes.

The few times I ever spoke of this crying experience to anybody, the word "spiritual-experience" would come to mind to complement it ("it was like a spiritual experience or something"), even though I had little interest in spirituality and never spoke of things in those terms.

Practice continued steadily from that first retreat for the next year. I was mixing Morality and Insight quite heavily though.
The next big leap in my practice happened 2 years later, on my third SN Goenka Vipassana retreat, in April 2010. My commitment to practice became stronger, in the sense of having more faith that enlightenment was possible and that this was the way to get there. Something seemed to shift quite dramatically and permanently in my awareness but it's hard to pin-point what. A relatively big chunk of my sense of separate-"I" vanished at some point, and I can't quite pin-point what it was because it's not there anymore. My identity shifted to include a larger part of "universe", as vague as that sounds, and a big chunk of my contractive ego, and desires, dropped. I also dropped my attachment to my posture, having my legs crossed in a certain way, or little ritual superstitions that I had built up around my practice.
The general sense of my life by now had shifted to more hopeful, pushing at my edge, more eager, I no longer considered myself depressed, on the contrary. There was a marked point where I realised suicide was not an option, not just in the conventional sense of it being utterly wrong, but in the sense I no longer felt trapped in the sense of needing to do that, that I had found a "safe place" in mediation, in observing the sensations that built up those dark feelings.

My concentration at this point was enough to stay on my breath for at least a solid minute without losing it, sometimes I think as high as 3-4 minutes on occasions. When in body-scan mode, I could sometimes be scanning my body for 5-10-15 minutes at a time without drifting into day-dreaming, but I would still receive thoughts quite regularly, except I didn't drop my scanning to pursue them.

I could often detect what felt like the "pre-echo" of a thought as it was about to "emerge", and then drop it before it got a chance to properly verbalise/image-ize itself and continue scanning my body.

I've experienced a few states which sound like Jhanas of some type, but I never really got a good enough chance to look at them clearly to know what they were. Some of them are quite "solidified", the experience of entering them is almost as if stepping through an opening and suddenly I'm perceiving sensations in an remarkably different manner, the shape of my awareness (if that makes sense) changes, but I can't really remember how exactly. It's pleasurable and takes concentration to maintain. I always notice it as soon as it happens, and it usually fades away slowly as I slowly lose concentration power. I don't notice it go as easily as I notice it appear. I can think of three distinct types of concentrated states, one not solidified, but I have no idea how to describe them because I haven't experienced them in a long time and generally never tried to conceptualise them in a verbal way to share with people.

As to the Dark Night stuff, and why I am suspecting I might be there... is, to be honest, I just resonate strongly with Daniel Ingram's descriptions in the "Progress of Insight" chapter. Especially the stages, Misery, Disgust, Fear, Desire for Deliverance, and Re-Observation. Even just the names of those stages feel like the territory I've been going through, for months and months, even before starting to meditate if that makes sense. I am hesitant to blame all my depression and troubles since 15 years old on Dark Night (partially because I do also recognise that I need therapy in the conventional content sense, partially because I just don't know these maps well enough to say).

Also, oddly enough, I resonated with the notion of "periphery vision". In the past weeks, whenever I try and focus on my breath, it usually involved for some reason having my eyes focus forwards also (even if just relaxed, sometimes they were engaged as if actually looking). I am unable to do this now without subtle facial muscles contracting and it gets very discomforting after a short while and feels unhealthy. And the concentration doesn't work, it feels tense. I tried meditating with a loose periphery focus after reading it and it became much easier.
If I sort of let my vision "space out" i become immediately aware of what is in the periphery of my vision. This might be a co-incidence as I spent almost 10h a day sat at a desk where i have the door to one far side and the window in the other, so it's almost as if I just have the habit of keeping those two things in my awareness (as all movement comes from either someone opening the door or something moving outside).

The 6 months following my 3rd retreat were basically cycles of feeling deeply miserable and hopeless, trapped in "existence", desperately wanting a way "out", constantly being re-reminded how beneficial vipassana is whenever I would sit, and trying to re-commit to taking practice seriously, but feeling intensely un-motivated to sit during most waking hours. It's quite silly because I find it difficult to explain exactly without going into the "content" stuff and my own personal circumstantial difficulties, and I think that might be part of the problem. There was also a specific range of "content" experiences that I desired very strongly to experience but had never yet been able to, and I think I had a certain fear that if I continued practicing in the way I was doing, I would never get to have these experiences (and the hope of having these experiences were in a sense the last "excuse" i had yet to let go of to finally accept that no type of experience can be ultimately satisfying)

At the end of those 6 months, early 2011, after an intense fit of rage which involved me rolling on the floor in spasms kicking and thrashing, I ended up quitting my studies and almost miraculously ended up having the worldly content experiences I so deeply sought after.

This led to a very memorable event which was the first thing I thought of after reading about A&P,
It was another ecstatic-crying-fit, (and these two are linked in my mind because they were so similar in nature) but this time much, much, much stronger, and it lasted about an hour. I began to cry, out of love again, and as the feeling of love got stronger, my body began to turn into large bubbles, but this time they were extremely solidified and felt like large 1inch marbles. I had to lie on the floor (in my room fortunately) and proceeded to scream and cry for the next 30-40 minutes. The vibrations in my body became extremely intense and even painful. It felt as if all the muscles were contracting as hard as they could, and that I would break. The marble vibration balls became as large as my fists. I began to involuntarily pump my groin-muscle, and suddenly sexual energy began to flow up my spine also, and through my thighs, with strong involuntary hip-convulsions (which I have never experienced before) and somewhere around this time the voice of an extremely brave man, in 3rd person, began to scream through my chest, up on stage to hundreds of people, channeling messages of love and shouting them out without fear or restriction, and deeply moving everyone who heard them.
The whole time I was crying I was having intense visions, which weren't in my head but seemed to envelop my whole being, they were happening all around me. They appeared to be inspiring visions of what is possible in life, for humanity, as if I was Seeing deeply, rather than just visualising Nice Things. It was extremely emotional and powerful. The crying wasn't (obviously i guess) like the normal sadness-type crying, in that the concern wasn't for the normal me that I might cry for when crying.

This event also happened to be "synchronised" with some other life-events coming from the person who triggered the event in me, who was in another country at the time and not in "direct" ordinary contact with me at the time.

I never cared much for synchronicity or those types of things, but since this experience I seem to be having a great deal synchronous and telepathic/prediction/intuition-knowing type experiences, many "verified" with the person who's mind i was "reading" or so on.

That has been ongoing through-out 2011, and my practice has slowly been deteriorating throughout the year also.
I feel as though invariably, when sitting to do vipassana the sensations would become very difficult and I would end up stopping. I was quite proud because up until mid-2011, I would never ever interrupt a 1h sitting, no matter how difficult it got. I got in the habit of shortening my practices and interrupting them, and it's now very difficult for me to get back into rhythm. Somehow every single day for the past 3 to 4 months I've been telling myself to get back into it but it's so difficult, it feels like a huge burden I'm not able to carry. At the same time I know I am far from my edge right now, I feel as if I am operating at a much lower level than my actual one and I need to be meditating to get back to my "edge".

I notice that I also seem to be always "aware", even though I am not always aware of being aware. I always have some awareness. But I don't recall in the past always knowing that I was always aware, even though I obviously always was. I don't know if that's an indication of anything, or just a change in the way I think of things.

Yikes I hope I'm making some sense. It's 2am and I'm struggling to keep this as short as I can. I realise it's long and I'm afraid I'm babbling to much and not explaining the right things.

Basically if anybody could help orient me, tell me if this is Dark Night stuff and if so how to proceed, or if its probably just my own content problems which I should sort out through other means (either way, I do also need therapy in the normal sense).

Okay, I am going to leave this here... it's very late. Thank you to anybody who gets through all that. I hope it was explained well and is posted in the right section of the board and so on. I realised I didn't post much as to my ability to observe the TC, which I feel I won't be able to describe at all until I get back into deep practice again. over the next few days i hope

Any help in figuring out where I am, what I can do, and understanding any of that, shall be extremely extremely appreciated. Thank you

wacky jacky, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Where am I (other than stuck)?

Posts: 46 Join Date: 2/18/12 Recent Posts
you ask if your post makes sense. it makes so much sense. welcome to dharma overground. i don't know anything so i'll stop here. bye, jacki.
Tommy M, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Where am I (other than stuck)?

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
Hiya Andrew, welcome on board!

Excellent introduction, plenty of good detail and your descriptions are really good too. Don't worry about long posts, you're not alone there and it's better to give too much detail than too little. Your story sound similar to mine in a lot of respects so I can relate to a lot of it, there's plenty of ex-Goenka students on here too who might be able to offer more relevant advice specific to that approach. Nikolai did a lot of work in the Goenka tradition before getting Stream Entry so it might be useful to check out this article on The Hamilton Project site.

Based on what you've said, I suspect you may have gotten stream entry here:

Something seemed to shift quite dramatically and permanently in my awareness but it's hard to pin-point what. A relatively big chunk of my sense of separate-"I" vanished at some point, and I can't quite pin-point what it was because it's not there anymore. My identity shifted to include a larger part of "universe", as vague as that sounds, and a big chunk of my contractive ego, and desires, dropped. I also dropped my attachment to my posture, having my legs crossed in a certain way, or little ritual superstitions that I had built up around my practice.

The lead up to it and particularly the changes afterwards sound promising enough to make such a statement, I wouldn't normally suggest that someone had 1st path without more info but what you're saying all sounds familiar to me and I know how strong a motivator that desire to stop all of the depressive mayhem can be.

So, how to proceed? It definitely sounds like you're in Dark Night, in which case the best was I've found to navigate it efficiently and skilfully i.e. without it fucking up the rest of your life, is learning to surrender to what's happening as it happens. Know that any resistance you put up only leads to more tension and unpleasantness, trying to change things and make them anything other than what they are right now kicks up more of the push/pull of aversion and craving which isn't what you need at all.

If you think that going for therapy of some sort would help you enjoy life more and assist with the changes your practice brings, go for it. These practices aren't a cure all for every single problem you come across, sure it makes things much easier to deal with but if there's still underlying issues you'd rather resolve then it makes sense to seek professional advice on the matter. Your honesty and willingness to question all of this stuff is commendable, it's abilities like that which can make a massive difference and help maintain high standards in your practice.

I think that if you apply what you've learned already and bring in noting, if you want to of course, as Daniel described in MCTB to your practice then I'm sure you'll move forward. You already know it's possible so it's just a matter of finding out how best to progress and I think you'll find what you're looking for here.

All the best.
Andrew Stewart, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Where am I?

Posts: 52 Join Date: 2/27/12 Recent Posts
wacky jacky:
you ask if your post makes sense. it makes so much sense. welcome to dharma overground. i don't know anything so i'll stop here. bye, jacki.

thanks jacky. that small sentence was more encouraging than you might imagine

thanks so much for your detailed reply Tommy. I will take your advice to heart. I'm not sure what I can say other than thanks, and that I'll keep practicing my best.

At the moment I feel as if I might be in an equanimity stage and I no longer feel "stuck".
I had written two long rambling posts, but I don't think they were actually helpful at all

If anyone else has anything to add to Tommy's post or a differing opinion please share it