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Dharma Diagnostic Clinic, aka "What was that?"

Just discovered the progress of insight - where am I?

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Hi everyone. This is a bit long, but you may be interested in the perspective of someone coming to all this from an outside tradition, and any help is greatly appreciated.

I'm 21 years old, and have been practicing in the tradition of Zen Buddhism on and off for around 4 years, to differing degrees of intensity. I had heard about some of these things in relation to vipassana-style practice before, but I never thought that they would apply generally to people who did other kinds of practices as well.

Well, I recently read through a good bit of MCTB, and wow. So, so much of my life and my practice makes so, so much more sense now. At first, reading through some of the early stages described in the Progress of Insight, I was thinking "well, this is pretty interesting; those vipassana folks certainly have their shit worked out." Then I started reading about the Arising and Passing...and it hit me, big time. "They don't just have their shit worked out - this is me! This happened to me!"

About 7 months ago, I was sitting 30 minutes of shikantaza, part of my usual schedule. After a few minutes, a vibrating sensation began welling up in my lower abdomen, accompanied by some visual distortion and blankness. I remember thinking, "something is about to happen - well, might as well push through and see what it is!" Then, suddenly, I had the distinct feeling of breaking through the vibrations and distortions into a vast ocean of blissful tranquility. It was like the wall in front of me (zazen is done with eyes open, facing a wall) had somehow escaped its solidity and all of a sudden took on infinite depth. My timer went off, even though it seemed only 5 minutes had passed since I sat down.

Walking around, I couldn't notice anything particularly different about the world, but at the same time, it seemed like I had just awoken from a murky, indiscernible dream. It's embarrassing, but my primary thought was "Yep. I'm enlightened. I must be a reincarnated bodhisattva - that was so easy!"

For a week or two, a sense of blissful immediacy permeated everything. I didn't need more than 2 or 3 hours of sleep a night. Meditative concentration was totally effortless. The world seemed fresh and pure, and mindfulness became my default state. Sometimes I felt like yelling at people: "just open your eyes! the world is right in front of you! life is right here, where are you?!" Masturbation felt fucking awesome. I wrote a bunch of poetry, started conversing with others on Dharma forums, and things in general were just going very well.

Then it all fell apart quite rapidly. No more illusions of enlightenment. If I went outside, I felt like I was going to melt into everything. I had dreams of floating in deep space, dissolving into the universe. It didn't feel profound - it felt uncomfortable. I became pretty agoraphobic and computer-locked. I began to have the distinct fear that whenever I went out, I was going to have a super-mystical experience that would destroy my brain or leave my body in a seizure (never happened, obviously). Smoked a lot of cigarettes, drank a lot of alcohol, and pretty much stopped practicing completely. Luckily, I used to have an anxiety problem, and learned to deal with it using pure acceptance, so I wasn't fearful so much as uncomfortable most of the time. Felt like I had restless leg syndrome.

This is also around the time I learned about Kundalini, and for some reason I developed a deeply ingrained fear of anything related to it. Though I started picking up my meditation again, I was scared to to do it for very long for fear that a K awakening would occur. As feelings of dissolution began to fade, this little bugger became the sole object of my worries, fears, and aversions. The following thought process has cycled through my head thousands of times since then: "If I continue practicing, I may induce a K awakening, which will then make it difficult or impossible to practice for a long time. Meditation is my life, though, so that would traumatic. But I can't stop meditating, because it's my life! But then...K might happen!" and over and over. This has been by far the most annoying thing that's ever come up for me.

Eventually, after some months of this, I just got tired of it all and fell into a state of surrender. "I can't stop what's going to happen, so I might as well just give up." My practice remained weak but steady. Since then, I have been generally in a state of light equanimity. Unpleasant sensations and thoughts arise, but I don't feel pulled by them. Alternatively, I don't attach strongly to promising thoughts or pleasant sensations. Drugs and alcohol are no longer attractive. All in all, I feel pretty "normal."

Well...about that. In terms of thoughts and feelings, yes, I feel pretty normal. In terms of perception, though, things have changed permanently since the event 7 months ago. When I look at something, there's just the thing. This is hard to describe. My perception is like a movie playing with no one watching. There's some sense of a separate self, but it seems like the Dark Night just beat the ever-loving shit out of it. Everything has much more depth and beauty, but as I stated, there's no real pull towards that fact. Where I used to be very frightened by things like depersonalization or lack of control over my own actions, I now have completely no aversion to such things. I also used to be scared by the concept of "derealization," where things begin to seem less real. I now don't know what the hell that's even supposed to mean. I used to have a lot of problems looking people in the eye - now it's my default way of looking at people. When they look at me, the question "what are you looking at?" arises often.

My meditation is rock solid. I just did a 7-day intensive Zen retreat and had almost no problems at all. During the last night I felt like I was nothing but a laser beam of concentration. I'm not obsessed with enlightenment anymore; just loving the practice.

So, my question: where am I? Am I just "back to normal"? Weak equanimity? Still in the DN (there are still small remnants of dissolution, fear, and all that)? Did I even enter into the Progress of Insight at all, or is this just a bunch of delusion? Should I maximize my effort towards practice at this time, or level it out? Thoughts in general?

Thanks a bunch to anyone who responds! I'm very new to all this, so all comments/questions are welcome!

RE: Just discovered the progress of insight - where am I?
Answer
7/6/12 3:53 PM as a reply to Sam S.
Hey Sam, welcome to the DhO!

You give some nice descriptions, good attention to detail, clarity about what actually happened, and most of all you seem to be honest with yourself about the ups and down of this whole thing. It's great that you've found benefit in the progress of insight, but keep in mind that it's only ever a useful model of experience and not the territory itself; don't get hung up on it and waste your time on trying to force-fit your experience to the expectation which can often appear when you first get into specific models.

Anyhow, since you've asked about whereabouts you are in terms of the progress of insight we'll stick to that for the moment and see if there's anything useful to be had from your initial post:

Walking around, I couldn't notice anything particularly different about the world, but at the same time, it seemed like I had just awoken from a murky, indiscernible dream. It's embarrassing, but my primary thought was "Yep. I'm enlightened. I must be a reincarnated bodhisattva(...)I wrote a bunch of poetry, started conversing with others on Dharma forums, and things in general were just going very well.

Aye, I think we've all been there at one time or another. Nothing embarrassing about it, shit happens and you managed to see through that particular "corruption of insight" so it's all good. This is classic post-A&P Event stuff, and what you say after this paragraph confirms this diagnosis.

Then it all fell apart quite rapidly. No more illusions of enlightenment. If I went outside, I felt like I was going to melt into everything. I had dreams of floating in deep space, dissolving into the universe. It didn't feel profound - it felt uncomfortable. I became pretty agoraphobic and computer-locked. I began to have the distinct fear that whenever I went out, I was going to have a super-mystical experience that would destroy my brain or leave my body in a seizure (never happened, obviously). Smoked a lot of cigarettes, drank a lot of alcohol, and pretty much stopped practicing completely. Luckily, I used to have an anxiety problem, and learned to deal with it using pure acceptance, so I wasn't fearful so much as uncomfortable most of the time. Felt like I had restless leg syndrome.

Dukkha ñanas, aka Dark Night aka Pain in the Fucking Arse.

The line in bold is pretty much the way to deal with Dark Night. With regard to the "restless leg syndrome", Dan Ingram made an interesting comment about this perhaps relating with the "Re-Observation" ñana but I don't know all that much about why he said it. I do know that I've experienced this consistently during 11th ñana in my own practice, although whether there's a neurological or psychological basis for it, I have no idea.

This is also around the time I learned about Kundalini, and for some reason I developed a deeply ingrained fear of anything related to it.

I can completely relate to this, I experienced something similar for the longest time and it only stopped entirely after stream entry.

Eventually, after some months of this, I just got tired of it all and fell into a state of surrender. "I can't stop what's going to happen, so I might as well just give up." My practice remained weak but steady. Since then, I have been generally in a state of light equanimity. Unpleasant sensations and thoughts arise, but I don't feel pulled by them. Alternatively, I don't attach strongly to promising thoughts or pleasant sensations. Drugs and alcohol are no longer attractive. All in all, I feel pretty "normal."

Good. Sounds like early-Equanimity, possibly wobbling back and forth between that and Re-Observation; you don't need to really do anything as such, just remain present and attentive to whatever presents itself. Continue to investigate their impermanence, see how they arise without any input from "you" and then turn the lens back on what remains as a sense of subject to these objects.

Well...about that. In terms of thoughts and feelings, yes, I feel pretty normal. In terms of perception, though, things have changed permanently since the event 7 months ago. When I look at something, there's just the thing. This is hard to describe. My perception is like a movie playing with no one watching. There's some sense of a separate self, but it seems like the Dark Night just beat the ever-loving shit out of it. Everything has much more depth and beauty, but as I stated, there's no real pull towards that fact.

Sounds good, based on your descriptions it's probable that the "event" involved some direct insight into anatta and anicca, not-self and impermanence; when you say: "when I look at something, there's just the thing", I know what you mean but it's important to know that, although a fundamental misperception has been seen through, there's still 'work' to be done here.

You acknowledge still having some sense of a separate self, so this is what you want to investigate further; what still implies that sense of a self? What makes it different from any other pattern of sensation? Is it special in any way? What causes it to arise? Is it ever not there at all? If so, how does that happen? What implies an inside and an outside to this "thing"?

All of the normality stuff is typical of Equanimity, but it's easy to become complacent or to solidify sensations into a stable jhana rather than breaking them down further. You've almost seen through it, just continue to investigate accurately and consistently, don't get caught up in the chilled out, normal-ness of everything and keep your eyes on the proverbial prize, i.e. Path.

So, my question: where am I? Am I just "back to normal"? Weak equanimity? Still in the DN (there are still small remnants of dissolution, fear, and all that)? Did I even enter into the Progress of Insight at all, or is this just a bunch of delusion? Should I maximize my effort towards practice at this time, or level it out? Thoughts in general?

The specifics of "where" aren't really important, right here and now is where you want to be since this is the only place where awakening can occur; it sounds like you're in early-Equanimity but your practice seems quite strong and you also seem intent on landing Path. What's even more encouraging, in my opinion, is that you still want to "do" something but the sense of a goal isn't as important anymore; practice for the sake of practice, a strong intent carries you forward but to set it up as a desire is to trip yourself up.

You're not delusional, on the contrary you seem very honest and committed to seeing things clearly. I suggest maintaining a strong practice, but not going at it hell-for-leather, take it easy and keep things organic, it kinda plays out by itself at this stage so go for accuracy and clarity. Look at what it is that still experiences, what still observes or witnesses the arising of these objects and find out why, if at all, it's any different to any other sensation you could experience; don't forget to investigate sensation implying things like "space" or "direction" too, there's a lot of subtle perceptual stuff which could be hiding in the shadows pretending to be a self...

Best of luck and let us know how you get on, thanks for taking the time to provide a good introduction and hopefully you'll be able to give a more Zen perspective on things too, the DhO is quite the melting-pot of techniques and methods so all perspectives are welcomed!