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Martin's practice thread

Martin's practice thread
3/27/12 2:41 PM
[the following post also figures in "Claims to attainments" under "help and new member"... I am relocating the conversation here. Admins, feel free to delete the previous thread in "claims and attainments"]

Hello, my name is Martin and I am a Buddhist practitioner. I am 24 years old and I got into meditation at the age of 17. I was ordained as a Bodhisattva in the Soto Zen tradition under master Roland Yuno Reich about 4 years ago. But I left this tradition three years ago. I am currently stuck in the Dark Knight, a stage which I now recognise thanks to Daniel Ingram. I have stopped practicing for three years out of fear. I am here to seek help or advice on how to move on. If Daniel reads this, I would like to express my deepest gratitude for pointing the obvious to me. Without him, I would have never known what happened to me.

Here is a story of my practice:

I think that I have always had a certain appeal and maybe aptitude for meditation and spirituality. As a kid and teenager, I would always have a strong feeling of peace of mind in sacred places like churches or cathedrals. And I remember that as a very young kid (I can’t remember the age but very young) I asked myself some philosophical questions that only made sense to me much later when I discovered Buddhism. I was wondering if people existed outside of myself and my perception of them. I remember thinking that I could not imagine how it would be the case. To me, they only existed in interaction with me. I don’t know where those questions came from but I remember distinctly being very preoccupied by them although my parents were atheist and we would never discuss religious or spiritual topics. I remember feeling this strong urge and need to investigate this matter.

At the age of 17, several books lead me to the discovery of Buddhism, but more importantly something called enlightenment. This idea was completely new to me and once I discovered it, I simply couldn’t let go of it. I just new it had to be both true and possible and I knew I would achieve it, or that it would be my goal in any case. This lead me to the first book that I read about Buddhism, a book that changed my life forever. It was called “The awakening according to Tchan” (“l’éveil selon le Tchan”

Looking back, I guess that I was very lucky to be introduced to Buddhism purely from the standpoint of practice and in a very “hardcore” way, I imagine. This book focused on one thing only: awakening. Its premise was simple and straight to the point: there is such a thing as awakening and it can be achieved in this life time. Whether or not you had past lives does not matter, whether or not the Buddha ever existed does not matter. The point is that he came up with a very simple, yet profound, method to achieve enlightenment which works if applied and that method is called “satipatthana” or “establishment of the attention”. The book explained in great length how to practice this establishment of attention which was, according to the Buddha, the only path to nirvana.

I was very inspired by it and I started practicing very very intensively. I have always been a very dedicated person, as I was always a top pupil at school and an elite runner, so when I put my mind to it, I really did it and I concentrated on the task of observing my body all day long as much as I could and as often as I could.
Back then, I thought that I was rubbish and that I had no talent for it. But with hindsight, I now realise the extent of my effort and I realise that I was actually practicing much more and much more intensively than most other practitioners that I have met so far. This awkward practice of observing my body and sensations all the time became like a second nature and one day I experienced profound peace from it, I felt like I was part of the universe, that there was no me, all there was was profound peace and understanding. I would also routinely get to this stage in seated meditation. It is not easy to describe what happened to me, especially as I have no predisposition to explaining spiritual things to others. But reading Daniel Ingram’s book leaves me with no doubt that this practice lead me to the Arising and Passing Away experience.

This stage of my practice was also accompanied by strange dreams. I started to have lucid dreams and sleep paralysis. Here is one example of such dreams. I awoke within my dream and realised that it was all a dream, so I simply left the location that I was at in my dream to go and sit in lotus posture on the street to start meditating. The whole time, I was aware that it was but a dream. As the meditation continued, my dream kind of vanished, I found myself in some sort of emptiness and I experienced profound peace of mind. These sorts of lucid dreams reoccurred several times and I remember that one time, I had a conversation with one of my friends, in my dream, trying to tell him that he simply did not exist. That this reality was a complete creation of my own mind, that it was a dream. He refused to listen to me and got really scared actually because I started flying to show him that it was indeed a dream. So I left him, flying away and went to meditate in my dream. My friend was probably a manifestation of my own fear, which by then had become very real.

Fear indeed, because it is by then that my problems really started. I had never been depressed in my whole life and always said that I didn’t understand how someone could be depressed but meditation practice made very depressed. I felt like my old self was gone, that I just couldn’t believe anymore that there was a “me”. It felt that I could see so clearly through that deception that I had to act really strongly to look normal and act like my old self. It is the right description: the impression of having to pretend, to act, and the impression that my old self was gone, much to my fear and despair. This was not an experience of happy awakening but rather deep psychological pain and trauma. As if I was a mirror that had been broken to pieces and my consciousness was trying to hold all the pieces together for the sake of sanity and social appearances. I also started to have hallucinations and probably some form of psychosis and/or neurosis. I would see people’s faces expand and disappear sometimes for no reason in the middle of the day, their voices would stop making any sense to me (and I would start panicking). And one day, as I was smoking a joint (I don’t normally do this, this was very rare) I had a terrible bad trip in which I saw everything disappear around me. I had only smoked half a joint. It could have been only caused by the joint but I don’t think so.

I also started to have really bad nightmares. Nightmares had always been a problem to me but here a very common theme would always repeat itself: I would be chased by someone or something who/which had the intention of killing me. I would wake up screaming, sometimes run away from my bed, etc. But often, I would suddenly realise that I can actually escape this, that it is not unavoidable and I would start flying away in my dream, away from the danger. This is a very common theme in my dream: threat, fear and then flying away, above it all.

In short, the Dark Knight got me pretty good and I would feel like my mind, and my sanity, was breaking apart, exploding into peaces. This completely freaked me out and I started to get into fasting, veganism and cleanses to cleanse this obvious sickness from my body(note that I had no idza it was "the dark knight" at this point, I just thought I had gone crazy and didn't think it was linked to meditation, if anything, I felt like a failure in meditation). I would do fasting and meditation but it only aggravated the symptoms. I became obsessed with food and plagued with weird visual hallucinations and I started experiencing anxiety and panick attacks. Eventually, I stopped practicing for the sake of my sanity and tried to get away from diets and cleanses. I developed a real fear of the darmha but at the same time a fascination and a deep desire to progress, although I was to scared to do it.

About two years ago, I bumped into Daniel Ingram’s book and it all became so clear and obvious. I had gone through A&P and I was now in the dark Knight and I was not one of those people who would go through it without noticing its effects. I had a spark of hope and motivation again but my fear of practice took over and I eventually stopped practicing entirely. But in reality, such a thing is impossible for me now. I practiced satipatthana so strongly that it is part of me, so I never stopped doing it entirely, although I did make a conscious effort to let go of it.

Several times, I tried to find Daniel Ingram’s book again without success and I started to have this faith that the book would find me again when the time would be right. And three days ago, for some reason, I had an urge to find it again and I found it within a few minutes, whereas I had spent hours before trying to find it. (I did not remember the name of the book nor Daniel Ingram’s name, all I could remember was “the dark knight”... which due to its resemblance with Batman, doesn't help much LOL !) To my joy, I realised that he now had a blog and videos and that there was an online community of dedicated practitioners who have some experience with what I am dealing with.

So it is with great humility that I introduce myself to you today and that I ask for your help and advice. It is much needed.

PS: Daniel Ingram, if you read this, I would particularly value your insights into my practice.

RE: Martin's practice thread
3/27/12 2:45 PM as a reply to Magada Rtinguindin.

Hi Martin,

Welcome to the DhO,

Have you read the rest of Daniel's book? Probably a good idea. It will then orient you on what you can do. Do you have a current practice? What is it? What are you doing? When you sit, what is happening phenomenologically? Sensations? mental phenomena? What is exactly occuring when you practice or in daily life as a result? How does fear manifest phenomenologically? Where is it located? Does it have an object? What are you doing when it arises? How do you deal with it?

Orient yourself to the main practice that Daniel speaks of in his book (noting), see if you can start to put it into practice and start a practice thread here at the DhO where you can record what is happening in your practice. Other yogis can then offer advice that is tailored for where you may find yourself.

There is a way to deal with the fear appropriately so that one begins to progress through it, learn from it, gain insight from it and continue on towards equanimity of formations, stream entry and beyond.

What is your goal/objective/reason for practicing? Where do you wish to take your practice other than dealing with the fear?


RE: Martin's practice thread
3/27/12 2:45 PM as a reply to Magada Rtinguindin.
Dear Nick,

First of all, I would be more than happy to move this thread to this practice thread you are describing. Maybe the admin(s) could do this for me. I didn’t really know where to talk about this and this place seemed like the most appropriate one. So, admins, please go ahead and move my thread if you want.

I did read daniel’s book entirely but it was two years ago (or so) now so I am actually in the process of rereading it again. My usual practice is and has always been to observe my body and sensation during the day whenever I can (while, walking, exercising, being alone, etc.). I am not sure whether that is a good idea after all. Maybe this is too much? Maybe I need to give myself more mental rest and this could be one of the reasons why I crashed like that… I don’t know. What do you think? When I was still practicing normally, I would also usually do 1h of seated meditation a day (morning and evening) in a zazen-like manner (observing, breath, body, sensations, posture, mind). I would also go to the Soto Zen dojo 3x a week (3x1.5hours).

Otherwise, for now, I am going to do some seated meditation for 30min a day. I don’t really focus on the concentration Jhana’s, as it is not an aspect of the Buddhist practice that I am familiar with, although I think I will in time when I get to know it better. What I usually do, is that I sit and observe my body, my breathing and my sensations as they arise, I do the same thing with thoughts and emotions, I try to simply observe them and see them appearing and disappearing. I don’t like “naming” things very much, if that is what you mean by noting. How is it possible? There are so many different sensations and feelings arising and disappearing so fast that I don’t have enough speed to name them fast enough. Speaking in one’s head only occurs a little faster than regular speech whereas phenomena appear and disappear at such great speeds… It seems like an impossible task. So I am not in the habit of doing it (I tried), I simply observe myself intensely.

The fear has been present for such a long time that I don’t really find it abnormal anymore. It manifests itself by a difficulty of breathing, a sensation in my throat and/or belly. Sometimes, I see it clearly while meditating and sometimes it goes away. But it is not just fear, I feel like I have been on a rollercoaster of negative emotions since discovering meditation and actually putting my heart to it.

My goal is arahantship. I feel drawn to it and I cannot imagine not trying to attain it in this life. It has been clear in my head since starting my practice. And I also feel like I don’t have a choice anymore. I feel like I set things in motion and now I have to finish what I started or I will be in this state of spiritual crisis indefinitely... Not my idea of fun.


RE: Martin's practice thread
3/27/12 2:50 PM as a reply to Magada Rtinguindin.
As I said earlier, I usually don't do noting meditation and I simply try to observe what happens in my mind and body without actually naming things.

But today, I tried for 30min without stopping and here are my thoughts on the matter:

To me me, it feels as if doing "noting" insight meditation is very limitative because there is only so much that you can name per second whereas the mind and body have countless sensations simulteanously.

My practice would go as follow (this is what i actually say mentally, pretty fast)
breathe in, in, in, in, tickles, in, noise, bird, out, out, pain, out, out, wandered, out, whistle in my ear, out, in, tickles, in, noise, in, moved, in, bored, out, thought, out, thought, out, tickles, out, noise, out, bird..
(in meaning "breathing in" and out meaning "breatging out)

So basically, I can only note one thing at a time and quite slowly. In reality, my ears were whistling the whole time (I suffer from tinnitus), I felt all sorts of body sensations all simulteanously the whole time, birds were singing non stop, etc. But I only noted one thing at a time quite arbitrarily

The only things that do not happen all the time, quickly and simulteanously are unexpected thoughts, noise and sensations like a sudden car on the street, the urge to know how much I have meditated, thoughts about past and future, etc. Those are rare and not always simultaneous.

I have to admit that this practice gives a lot more power to my meditation and that spotting thoughts becomes very easy. I feel like it is a weapon that I can use to aim at anything happening but at the same time, I feel quite powerless to note everything that happens and I sometime wonder what I should note given the fact that I notice so many things simulteanously.

RE: Martin's practice thread
3/27/12 3:03 PM as a reply to Magada Rtinguindin.

RE: Martin's practice thread
3/27/12 3:05 PM as a reply to Nikolai ..
Thank Nikolai. I will read your experience as soon as possible.

RE: Martin's practice thread
3/28/12 7:59 AM as a reply to Nikolai ..

That is most interesting. I like your analogy of centre stage. Although all sensations occur nearly simultaneously, the mind does priorities some of them. The main focus goes from one phenomenon to the next in a random and arbitrary fashion that becomes indeed quite clear and obvious once you start labeling phenomena.

If I get you well, your practice would go as follow (please correct me if I am wrong or bring some subtleties to this summary):
- candle meditation for concentration
- followed by noting meditation with mental verbalisation
- followed noting meditation without mental verbalisation (i.e. "mmh" or "dhat" for every phenomenon arising in the mind)

I find it so fascinating that your first experience of noting is just like mine: "OMG I can see through thoughts and wandering so clearly". It felt really empowering. With my normal zazen/goenka practice, I would also get lost in thoughts. The analogy of the shooting aliens is very true in this sense: if you stop noticing, it's game over. And for some reason, you don't let this happen with the help of "noting".

RE: Martin's practice thread
3/29/12 6:30 AM as a reply to Magada Rtinguindin.
I am reading about the concentration jhana's and I wonder what place thoughts play in these jhana's. Or to reverse the question, can one think and still maintain these jhana's? Or do you stop thinking the whole time, completely absorbed in concentration so that not even the thought "this is the 5th jhana" arises?

I find this mapped description a little confusing. I am pretty sure that in my practice, I have experienced several of those jhana's, and most definitely clinged to them as even now, I think about some of the states I was in in meditation with nostalgia and I find it difficult not to strive to such states while doing insight practice. But I didn't feel like there were levels or anything. I just felt my concentration getting more and more steady and my consciousness changing. I could not possibly say which jhana I attained.

And yes, I understand now that I have battled a lot between insight and concentration in my seated practice. Zazen would naturally bring me to experience these jhanic states although my intention was to practice insight.

As for the powers, I feel like I have definitely experienced some of them. One day, I had a dream that turned out to be 100% accurate (a friend of mine told me about a race that he did, his position and disappointment and then the next day, he told me the same thing exactly !). I often experience seeing through my eyelids at night. It is a weird feeling, I believe that I am looking at my ceiling in the darkness and at first nothing feels weird but then I realise that the colours are a bit different, kind of blue... and that's when I usually realise that my eyes are actually closed and it all vanishes. Since starting meditation, I have also experienced a big increase in intuition. I can often easily tell how people feel and I noticed that it happens that I think about something and that people then bring it up in the conversation. These are normal phenomena but the difference for me is that it happens much more than before. I guess that it is because I concentrate on my body and sensation a lot during daily life. I dunno...

RE: Martin's practice thread
3/31/12 6:38 AM as a reply to Magada Rtinguindin.
I am rereading Daniel's book and I got to the dark knight. I feel so lucky and unlucky at the same time.Lucky to know now but unlucky to have started insight practice with no knowledge of these dangers, as if somehow everything would be peaceful the whole time. My eyes are filled with tears when I think of the past and when I experienced it so strongly without knowing what had happened. To me, reading those chapters is like reading the story of my life since encountering buddhism. I have had such frightening hallucinations, probably as part of fear.

I remember having visions of my whole world breaking apart, especially my sense of sight. It is not wonder as I was basically doing insight practice all the time in the form of satipatthana. One day, I was in a corridor and a friend of mine threw a ball to me and then smth horrible happened. My perception of my friends shattered, the perception of colours and distances too. I felt like my brain stopped functioning but the whole time I had to stay normal. Terrible fear and anxiety was taking over me.

These frightening visions kept on haunting me for months but they eventually faded away partially when i stopped practicing completely.

I feel so much sadness and compassion for the poor souls who are battling with the dark knight without knowing at all what is happening to them.

I also have profound fear of experiencing it again but I will have to get over it and move on with my practice.

RE: Martin's practice thread
4/16/12 5:00 PM as a reply to Magada Rtinguindin.
Just talked to Daniel Ingram about my practice. Here are some of his recommendations:

"When you start to feel stress, take a spacious perspective, aA volumetric persective. Find what percentage of that volume has the physical pain in it. Notice that the thoughts don't hurt at all. They are like phantoms. Then just stay with the subtle shifting bodily discomfort. And also at the same time notice now it is part of a space that is probably 99% not feeling any pain at all. And just stay with that back and forth play of sensations and attention. And notice what part is a problem. And that the whole rest is not. And just keep experiencing that directly again and again. As the repetition, second after second, writes that on the brain and wires it in. It is like playing an instrument or practicing a language, you have to put in the time doing it to change your brain. So that perspective is automatic and your default baseline way of perceiving things
The attitude that you can do this and it will be ok is important. You have better technology for meditation now: that will help, so don't be unnecessarily afraid.

Four points:
1) Plan a good retreat sometime in the future
2) Contact Tommy M in Scottland: DhO person
3) Practice enjoying your life and being ok with enjoying your life
4) Practice noticing how space is ok and there is a little pain there that also should be investigated just and where it is and how it shifts and flickers and changes on its own and still space is ok with that"

Hope that can be helpful for other people too !

RE: Martin's practice thread
4/20/12 4:44 PM as a reply to Magada Rtinguindin.
I am reading about the concentration jhana's and I wonder what place thoughts play in these jhana's. Or to reverse the question, can one think and still maintain these jhana's? Or do you stop thinking the whole time, completely absorbed in concentration so that not even the thought "this is the 5th jhana" arises?

I find this mapped description a little confusing. I am pretty sure that in my practice, I have experienced several of those jhana's, and most definitely clinged to them as even now, I think about some of the states I was in in meditation with nostalgia and I find it difficult not to strive to such states while doing insight practice. But I didn't feel like there were levels or anything. I just felt my concentration getting more and more steady and my consciousness changing. I could not possibly say which jhana I attained.

The first part of your question is more a matter of levels of concentration than jhanas themselves. You can get into what you might see referred to as a "hard" jhana, which is where you're fully absorbed in the way you describe about, however that level of concentration isn't exactly conducive to insight practice and so you'll likely hear more about "soft" jhana, i.e. not fully absorbed but still firmly in that jhanic strata. To further complicate matters, there's also a fractal aspect to each jhana but this is a complex subject which Daniel knows a lot about and could likely give clearer advice than me.

Thinking still occurs in 1st jhana, two of the factors of jhana are applied thinking, vitakka, and sustained thinking, vicara, but these both stop when you enter 2nd jhana. It's a very distinctive state to enter and you'll likely have experienced it during your previous practice although weren't aware of what you were looking for. Pre-1st path you're supposed to have access to the first four jhanas, but I can distinctly recall experiences of what I now know as 6th and 7th jhanas long before I even knew what stream entry was so I don't know how that all lines up. I suspect that you've probably gotten into these states before, but what's more useful is learning to get into the now and with the knowledge you have already, that's the way to learn and you'll definitely progress going by your previous practice.

It might be worth starting with some concentration practice by itself, just as a way to ease yourself back into practice and get to grips with what's happening right now. You'll probably find yourself naturally moving into insight practice anyway so take it as it comes: natural, organic, plain and simple. Enjoy it, it makes all the difference.

Hope that helps a bit, I mailed you earlier to say I'd try to reply on here so I'll drop you a line once you've had a chance to read this.

RE: Martin's practice thread
4/23/12 4:57 AM as a reply to Tommy M.
Thanks for the advice Tommy !