Stuck in an unknown state

Ioannis Angelopoulos, modified 8 Years ago.

Stuck in an unknown state

Posts: 3 Join Date: 8/5/12 Recent Posts
Dear All,

First of all I would like to thank you all in advance for reading this. I don't really know where to start, so excuse any incompleteness in this or any structural weirdness.

I will try to be brief and condensed. I have praticed concentration and meditation exercises for quite some time now (more than a decade). Initially I had started with magickal traditions and recently (about 4 years ago) I discovered Buddhism and Yoga. I started with Yogananda tradition and recently (about a year ago) I discovered Dzogchen in the teachings of Namkhai Norbu and Ngakpa Chögyam of the Nyingma Tibetan Tradition and I was stunned. I am a physicist by profession and Dzogchen teaching of the mind were the closest thing to Quantum Neuroscience I have ever read. I entered into the system and start practicing Shi-Ne meditation. Yet Lhatong and the further states of Nyi-mèd and Lhundrüp, even though immensely fascinating, they seem completely out of my reach (and understanding). Searching as usual around the net, I discovered the 'Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha' - which I think it is one of the most practical books on the way to enlightenment I have ever read - and decided to see where I am according to this excelent roadmap and maybe take some steps again from the begining.

So, I think I am stuck in a weird situation even before the first Jhana (?) and I would please for your help and guidance.
First of all I can be in a thought-free state for long periods of time (more than one hour for sure). By 'thoughts' I mean, verbal and non-verbal ones, emotions, basically everything but NOT sensations. What I mean is that I have no thoughts but I can hear the sound of the bird singing outside extremelly well.

Another problem that I have is that it is (and it has always been) extremely difficult for me to visualize. Not because of distracting thoughts (there are not any) but because I cannot maintain a stable visual mental image even for a second. I can fantasize ( my "imaginations" have the "quality" of memories ) - I can remember colours and shapes etc but -for example- it is almost impossible to "see" a red triangle in front of me either with eyes open or closed. I don't know if this makes any sense...

So, I tried to practice for the first Jhana. Since it is very difficult for me to visualize I chose the breath as the object of concentration. By that I mean the exact bodily sensation that the air makes in the nostrils as it moves through them ( contrary to visualizing, I am extremely good with feeling and isolating bodily sensations). I can follow this sensation very closely without distraction for long amounts of time (an hour or more). During this time no thoughts arise (even if one or two do, they do not distract me) BUT:
a) I do hear and feel the environment around me (sounds, other bodily sensations) and this sometimes is and sometimes is not distracting (meaning sometimes the beep of a car outside will make me focus on that and so forget the breth sensation for a second or two)
b) I do not get anywhere beyond that. No pleasure, no bliss, no rapture....
c) the breathing gets very shallow but in no way imperceptible. Generally it varies

Basically I have never felt or experienced any of the mystical states. I can stay for 3 or 4 hours thought-free just watching the non-rising of thoughts ( this is my favorite meditation practice because it is very relaxing but it is difficult to describe - it is like watching the blank screen of my mind to observe if a thought "decides" to show itself ), but thats basically it. Nothing more.

I would please for your opinion and your suggestions on how to proceed.

Many thanks in advance
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fivebells ., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Stuck in an unknown state

Posts: 563 Join Date: 2/25/11 Recent Posts
Ioannis Angelopoulos:
Yet Lhatong and the further states of Nyi-mèd and Lhundrüp, even though immensely fascinating, they seem completely out of my reach (and understanding).


What happens when you practice with typical pointing-out instructions?

If you want to go further with the MCTB practices, the next stage would be observing the three characteristics (dukha, nonself, impermanence) in the phenomena you note. You probably don't need to worry too much about the jhanas, at least for now, as your concentration is so stable.

If you want to go further with the jhanas, cultivate metta.
Ioannis Angelopoulos, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Stuck in an unknown state

Posts: 3 Join Date: 8/5/12 Recent Posts
Thank you guys for your time.

fivebells .:

What happens when you practice with typical pointing-out instructions?


Well, even though I had formal empowerment I have never experienced rigpa if this is what you are referring to. Additionally it is my understanding that unless many-year rigorous training has been undertaken before the empowerment under close companionship with the guru, rigpa realization during an empowerment very rarely happens. I could be wrong of course...

fivebells .:
If you want to go further with the MCTB practices, the next stage would be observing the three characteristics (dukha, nonself, impermanence) in the phenomena you note.

Well, I am just reading again Daniel's book to get acquainted with the techniques...

fivebells .:
You probably don't need to worry too much about the jhanas, at least for now, as your concentration is so stable.
I do want to go further with the jhanas and their experience even if only for the experience itself. However I am not sure if what I described is a deep concentration indeed. If it was, I would expect that the altered states would be apparent, no ?

fivebells .:
If you want to go further with the jhanas, cultivate metta.

If by metta you mean love/kindness you will not find a kinder person in the world emoticon Seriously, I don't understand how this can help in Jhanas...

. Jake .:
So it seems like there is a fundamental difference between no thoughts arising and when thoughts arise?

Yes, Jake, I know the theory but at my level or according to how I experience things the empty mind does differ to the state where a thought is present.

. Jake .:
If you can remain without thoughts for that long, and your senses are clear, have you tried applying the method for lacktong as described in Roaring Silence?

If so, what happens?

Yes. Unfortunately nothing happens. I mean if a thought appears then it always appear in ‘the mind’ of a thinker who produces them. I cannot seem to get the lhatong experience – where there appears to be no thinker.

. Jake .:
In other words, are thoughts/emotions/intentions automatically interpreted as distractions, as opposed to the sensations of the five outer senses? If so, you may be holding an unconscious view about the nature of what is to be cultivated that is blocking your progress.

That might be very well true. In fact everything (including the sensations of the five outer senses) are considered distractions by me at this stage. That is why I strive to reach the higher Jhanas (at least first) where there is nothing but the mind merged with the object. Everything else (inner as well as outer) is supposed to be cut off.

. Jake .:
As for the visualization part of it, in Norbu's teaching at least (and generally in the 'anu-yoga style' approach to Tantra that is offered by radical Dzogchen teachers such as you seem attracted to) being able to literally visualize is not important as getting the 'feel' of the deity/mandala. But that pertains to tantric practice, not jhanna cultivation.

You are right again Jake. Yet this "feeling" of the yidam is something that eludes me too...

. Jake .:
Why do you want to cultivate jhanna, out of curiosity?

Not having experienced any deep altered states before, I do consider it important psychologically for my progress. I really need to experience that I am progressing. I also need the concentration for other practices that I do (martial arts).
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fivebells ., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Stuck in an unknown state

Posts: 563 Join Date: 2/25/11 Recent Posts
Ioannis Angelopoulos:
If by metta you mean love/kindness you will not find a kinder person in the world emoticon Seriously, I don't understand how this can help in Jhanas...

. Jake .:
Why do you want to cultivate jhanna, out of curiosity?


Not having experienced any deep altered states before, I do consider it important psychologically for my progress. I really need to experience that I am progressing. I also need the concentration for other practices that I do (martial arts).


Having established stable attention, just attend to the metta which is arising in the present moment. That will likely lead to the ecstasy you're looking for.

This goes really well with body-based concentration exercises like you do in martial arts, like tai chi/qigong.
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. Jake ., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Stuck in an unknown state

Posts: 698 Join Date: 5/22/10 Recent Posts
Ioannis Angelopoulos:


. Jake .:
So it seems like there is a fundamental difference between no thoughts arising and when thoughts arise?

Yes, Jake, I know the theory but at my level or according to how I experience things the empty mind does differ to the state where a thought is present.


Okay that makes lots of sense. Seeing that 'the thinker' is a thought might help, which I'm sure you understand at one level already. See below.

Ioannis Angelopoulos:

. Jake .:
Why cultivate jhanna, out of curiosity?

Not having experienced any deep altered states before, I do consider it important psychologically for my progress. I really need to experience that I am progressing. I also need the concentration for other practices that I do (martial arts).


That makes sooo much sense. I think you are onto something. If you can practice jhanna (and vipassana?) according to the general themes of MCTB, and do so with the intention to let that part of the psyche which is seeking these experiences just sort of 'come out and play' as you explore these altered states (and the part of 'you' that wants to experience them) I suspect you will indeed progress and that through that progress you may gain direct insight into the thinker being a thought, and find that you can then 'progress' more confidently with semde.
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. Jake ., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Stuck in an unknown state

Posts: 698 Join Date: 5/22/10 Recent Posts
So it seems like there is a fundamental difference between no thoughts arising and when thoughts arise?

If you can remain without thoughts for that long, and your senses are clear, have you tried applying the method for lacktong as described in Roaring Silence?

If so, what happens?

In other words, are thoughts/emotions/intentions automatically interpreted as distractions, as opposed to the sensations of the five outer senses? If so, you may be holding an unconscious view about the nature of what is to be cultivated that is blocking your progress.

As for the visualization part of it, in Norbu's teaching at least (and generally in the 'anu-yoga style' approach to Tantra that is offered by radical Dzogchen teachers such as you seem attracted to) being able to literally visualize is not important as getting the 'feel' of the deity/mandala. But that pertains to tantric practice, not jhanna cultivation.

Why do you want to cultivate jhanna, out of curiosity? I agree with Fivebells that if what you want is to wake up, jhanna is not so important where you are at right now, since your attention is so stable all you need do is train mind to acknowledge/notice/appreciate the impermanent empty nature of all sensations, including thoughts.
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Pablo . P, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Stuck in an unknown state

Posts: 378 Join Date: 3/21/12 Recent Posts
Hey,

I'm no expert but have also been stuck in "silence mode" for some years and do practice martial arts. Probably you've been practicing qigong for years, so it would be good to build on what you already have. If you can feel qi, vibrations, hot lines or the like in your body, then you could go for samatha via metta practice or vipassana, focusing on the quality of vibrations.

Coming from a martial art background, I now is hard to jump into a cheesy metta practice, but it works! emoticon The way I found it doable is with pictures of loved ones when they were small kids, more like a caring father love. In short, I do 20-30 minutes of qigong *, then watch one of those pictures for 1 minute, and focus on the smile and joy of their faces. After that, I sit or lay down in bed, 10 minutes of "letting go" all tensions, specially in legs and arms. By then you'll probably feel the energy all around your body, as itchies, vibrations, etc. Then I recall that smile and joy of the picture, and feel like if I were giving love to that person so that that smile & joy could happen to him/her. You'll find yourself smiling in seconds. Try to merge that sensations that arise while smiling with the (neutral) energy you fill running in your body...and voila!

If metta is not for you, you could try instead vipassana: noting the qi, vibrations, etc. I'm just starting with this practice, there's a lot of sensations to process, it's jumping into fast noting from the start, like having a Ferrari as your first car. If there are too many tinglings to count (say over 4 per second), you may focus your awareness on the "wave shape" of vibrations, or the variety of waves, or the peak of the waves, etc. So far, I can distinguish between bodily-energy related sensations and non-verbal thoughts related sensations.

Maybe someone more experienced can offer you better advice.

Best wishes!

* simple and easy qigong like Spring Forest, or Feng Zhiqiang Hunyuan Qigong will do the job. You can boost your standing health qigong practices merging them with metta.
Ioannis Angelopoulos, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Stuck in an unknown state

Posts: 3 Join Date: 8/5/12 Recent Posts
Thank you all guys for your time and interest. I really appreciate it. emoticon

Pablo thank you for one of the most practical practices of metta I have ever read. I was not familiar with the term. I had to google it when the guys above mentioned it. I guess it stands for kindness/compassion right ? It is not something I have practical experience with but I am willing to give it a try.

As for the rest I still have questions (that is why I have not marked a post as answer so far).

For example I really cannot distinguish the difference between samatha and vipassana meditation. Both focus on the movement of one part of the body (belly, breath). I do that. ( Now one important question here is how strong this focus needs to be. Do I have to exert the utmost effort - like the cat observes the mouse - to "glue" my attention on the object (effort is the important word here) or do I need just to place gently my attention on the object ?). Now when I do that, distractions (mainly from the external world - sounds, bodily sensations) come. I notice them mentally (I don't name them, I just notice them) then I go back to the concentration object. Is that samatha or vipassana ? Should I do something different for Jhana progress ?

Dr. Ingram in his masterwork, mentions concentration altered states oftenly and consistently. He speaks of stages and specific techniques in order to achieve and progress through them. If this is as mentioned, it seems that there must be something wrong that I am doing or I must try harder (whatever that means - hours ? effort ?) correcting possible mistakes of mine.

Am I wrong somewhere in my thinking ?
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Pablo . P, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Stuck in an unknown state

Posts: 378 Join Date: 3/21/12 Recent Posts
Ioannis, good to know it helps! Samatha (concentration) practices can either be focused or scattered/dispersed. Kasina/candle flame is the best example of the first one, as you focus on a single object, and metta of the latter, a whole body experience. IME, breath is somewhere in the middle, and you can choose how focused or scattered it can be.

Regarding effort, it's much of a personal choice, you'll have to find what's best for you, and that may take some time trying different methods. That's why I wrote the metta practice I do, because that's what best worked for me, with my taoist-zen martial arts background.

There's plenty of information about samatha/vipassana in this site (sticky threads, wiki, etc), or Kenneth Folk's, and MCTB as well (you'll probably have to re-read it every now and then). Then ask specific questions about your practice and luckily some advance meditator will answer you.

Best!
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fivebells ., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Stuck in an unknown state (Answer)

Posts: 563 Join Date: 2/25/11 Recent Posts
Ioannis Angelopoulos:
Now one important question here is how strong this focus needs to be. Do I have to exert the utmost effort - like the cat observes the mouse - to "glue" my attention on the object (effort is the important word here) or do I need just to place gently my attention on the object ?). Now when I do that, distractions (mainly from the external world - sounds, bodily sensations) come. I notice them mentally (I don't name them, I just notice them) then I go back to the concentration object. Is that samatha or vipassana ?


In principle, you can do it either way, but forcing attention generally reinforces the conditioning you're trying to understand and release. You want to rest attention on the object and bring it back when it wanders. The way my teacher explains it is that at first meditation is like resting a rigid circular dowel on a platform: a slight shift in the platform, and the dowel rolls off. As you relax into it, meditation becomes more like a cloth which is draped over the platform. So for samatha, it's useful if the object of attention is something which brings comfort and ease. Vipassana is about including in attention the things you usually ignore because they make you uncomfortable. It still doesn't involve forced attention, though it does ease you into an attitude like "This is all just experience, I can experience it all as is no matter how uncomfortable it makes me." Vipassana depends on the stability developed in samatha to allow the inclusion without forcing it.
End in Sight, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Stuck in an unknown state

Posts: 1251 Join Date: 7/6/11 Recent Posts
Ioannis Angelopoulos:
I can stay for 3 or 4 hours thought-free just watching the non-rising of thoughts ( this is my favorite meditation practice because it is very relaxing but it is difficult to describe - it is like watching the blank screen of my mind to observe if a thought "decides" to show itself ), but thats basically it.


Are you referring to a mental object (a "thought") here? Perhaps one that you don't realize is one?

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