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Jhanas getting easier, ingisht getting harder
jhana equanimity
Answer
8/25/12 1:02 PM
Hi,
sorry I'm asking so many questions at once, it's been a while since I last posted and many doubts on how to continue have been arising for a while. Feel free to pick your favorite question from below and answer just that one emoticon


My background
I started practicing around mid March, always having samatha as my aim as I consider vipassana to be harder to grasp and without a good samatha foundation. So in early May I crossed the A&P without intending it, in one of my sittings where I was actually looking for first jhana. Until then I hadn't accessed any jhana at all.

Since then all through May, through a lot of hard work, I was able to access jhanas 1-3, the higher the softer, always laboriousy and with little consistency. As the DN started to set in my sleep schedule got a bit messed up which in turn messed up my concentration and my practice schedule... couldn't access the jhanas again until late July.

At that point I think I was in low EQ, with most of the crap from the DN still there but not caring too much about it. Now I think I might be in high EQ as all the DN stuff disappeared, I'm feeling happier and more peaceful about life, sleep schedule is more manageable, getting to sit is easier and concentration is improving. On the other hand, I feel like I'm back to square one as all the fireworks from the A&P and the DN frustration disappeared, so in many regards I feel like a "normal human being" again, like before taking up meditation. Can anyone relate to this?


Now the questions, underlined

First of all, how come I'm progressing through the stages of insight if I always sit trying to do samatha, solidifying the breath? (BTW, I never went on retreat)

The visual cues of the A&P fireworks and the auditory cues of early DN don't show up any longer, so the description of any single recent sitting would have become quite boring and dry, hadn't I been experimenting with jhanas so much. Without the cues, how can I track my progress? How can I know I'm making progress now that the sittings are becoming so uneventful, insight-wise?

So a couple weeks ago I started having more energy as I started sleeping more hours each night. The jhanas, that had been laborious in May, are now much more effortless. I can get to 1st jhana consistently in less than 20 minutes, and from then it's another 20 minutes or less to get to 4th. I do so by becoming mindful of the prominent factors of each jhana, and dropping them one by one. And when I get to 4th, I stay there for a few minutes and only then switch to insight. In these 2 weeks I've been gradually lengthening the insight phase of my sittings, but struggling to keep my focus as I don't have a clear object. Should I go back to the breath, even from inside 4th jhana?
I can feel the effortful rapture of 1st, the effortless rapture of 2nd, the quiet bliss of 3rd and the deep peace of 4th. No idea how to get to the formless realms from there. The thing is, I read some descriptions on how to get there and they refer to space or spaciousness or focus, which I never perceived and couldn't perceive if I wanted to. The jhana factors are very clear, but I could never "see" things like "panoramic focus", "the center of the donut", the "meditation object moving with the breath" or a nimitta. Which everyone else with jhana access seems to perceive, which confuses me a bit.

Yesterday I had a couple of very powerful sittings in terms of concentration, jhanic solidity, and degree of calm. Today I was feeling confident, so I started with an experiment: try to go into 2nd jhana without preambles. So I sat, closed my eyes, and literally in 5 seconds I felt the effortless rapture of 2nd jhana. From then I progressed to 4th at the usual pace and then started with insight. I can't quite believe I went to 2nd jhana in 5 seconds, as I'm pre-path. Can anyone explain or relate to this?

Thanks all
Nick P

RE: Jhanas getting easier, ingisht getting harder
Answer
8/25/12 1:33 PM as a reply to Nick P.
Nick P:
And when I get to 4th, I stay there for a few minutes and only then switch to insight. In these 2 weeks I've been gradually lengthening the insight phase of my sittings, but struggling to keep my focus as I don't have a clear object. Should I go back to the breath, even from inside 4th jhana?


What do you mean by focus, here?

RE: Jhanas getting easier, ingisht getting harder
Answer
8/25/12 4:09 PM as a reply to Nick P.
Nick P:

Yesterday I had a couple of very powerful sittings in terms of concentration, jhanic solidity, and degree of calm. Today I was feeling confident, so I started with an experiment: try to go into 2nd jhana without preambles. So I sat, closed my eyes, and literally in 5 seconds I felt the effortless rapture of 2nd jhana. From then I progressed to 4th at the usual pace and then started with insight. I can't quite believe I went to 2nd jhana in 5 seconds, as I'm pre-path. Can anyone explain or relate to this?


Hey Nick,

I don't think that it's impossible to achieve that kind of quick access to the jhanas even before Stream Entry. We're mostly just limiting ourselves by having these kinds of ideas in our heads. Once the neural pathways for the jhanas have been established, it just becomes easier and easier to enter, since these states and their necessary pre-conditions get recognized more and more easily, imho.

Of course, the interesting question here is how you would compare this speed-induced state with your usual experiences of 20 minute jhanas. Was it just as intense and vivid, or more like a shallow copy of the usual stuff?

Maybe you should also just try doing the same with the other jhanas you already have access to, just to see what happens, and maybe get some extra insight into the process.

Nick P:

Since then all through May, through a lot of hard work, I was able to access jhanas 1-3.


Would you mind describing what that hard work consisted of? I'm asking because I am still struggling with consistent access to the jhanas myself. It's more like a game of chance for me, sometimes stuff happens, other times there's just nothing going on for the whole sit. I'm especially interested because you mentioned that you haven't been on a formal retreat yet, and obviously been able to make this work for you anyway.

RE: Jhanas getting easier, ingisht getting harder
Answer
8/25/12 4:52 PM as a reply to Nick P.
First of all, how come I'm progressing through the stages of insight if I always sit trying to do samatha, solidifying the breath?

Chances are you're just naturally inclined towards insight. If you're doing samatha, all you need to do is to stay with the object consistently, don't investigate it or break down the sensations that make it up as this is insight practice and, as far as I can tell from your posts, is exactly what you're doing but possibly without realizing.

The visual cues of the A&P fireworks and the auditory cues of early DN don't show up any longer, so the description of any single recent sitting would have become quite boring and dry, hadn't I been experimenting with jhanas so much. Without the cues, how can I track my progress? How can I know I'm making progress now that the sittings are becoming so uneventful, insight-wise?

You're looking for things which aren't necessarily cues to indicate your whereabouts, this will just lead to confusion and you'll end up stuck. Personally, I have no idea what you mean by "auditory cues of early DN" or "visual cues of the A&P fireworks" so would you mind describing this a bit more?

As far as tracking your progress, I'd suggest that you drop it at least while you're actually sitting. Sometimes your sits will be uneventful, that's just what happens, but sometimes you'll come away from practice feeling as though you've had the shit kicked out of you, or that you've just had sex with the universe...don't go into expecting anything, just remain attentive and observe whatever arises.

So a couple weeks ago I started having more energy as I started sleeping more hours each night. The jhanas, that had been laborious in May, are now much more effortless. I can get to 1st jhana consistently in less than 20 minutes, and from then it's another 20 minutes or less to get to 4th. I do so by becoming mindful of the prominent factors of each jhana, and dropping them one by one. And when I get to 4th, I stay there for a few minutes and only then switch to insight. In these 2 weeks I've been gradually lengthening the insight phase of my sittings, but struggling to keep my focus as I don't have a clear object. Should I go back to the breath, even from inside 4th jhana?

Based on your descriptions, it's more likely you're actually getting to 2nd jhana rather than 4th.

Could you describe the way your attention seems to move in what you think is 4th jhana? There are a few things you've mentioned here which would give me reason to doubt that you're getting into 4th, and it's worth knowing that there's a sort of fractal aspect to jhana which can be quite confusing if you're not familiar with the territory.

I can feel the effortful rapture of 1st, the effortless rapture of 2nd, the quiet bliss of 3rd and the deep peace of 4th. No idea how to get to the formless realms from there. The thing is, I read some descriptions on how to get there and they refer to space or spaciousness or focus, which I never perceived and couldn't perceive if I wanted to. The jhana factors are very clear, but I could never "see" things like "panoramic focus", "the center of the donut", the "meditation object moving with the breath" or a nimitta. Which everyone else with jhana access seems to perceive, which confuses me a bit.

You probably won't have access to the formless realms until after Path so don't worry about that for the moment.

If you don't recognize what phrases like "panoramic focus" point to, you're probably not getting into 4th 'cause it's such a massively obvious shift in perception that you'd notice it straight away. Descriptions like "the center of the donut" and "meditation object moving with the breath" are pretty obvious when they're encountered, in my experience anyway, so you're either not noticing these aspects of the jhana or aren't getting as far as you think you are.

Yesterday I had a couple of very powerful sittings in terms of concentration, jhanic solidity, and degree of calm. Today I was feeling confident, so I started with an experiment: try to go into 2nd jhana without preambles. So I sat, closed my eyes, and literally in 5 seconds I felt the effortless rapture of 2nd jhana. From then I progressed to 4th at the usual pace and then started with insight. I can't quite believe I went to 2nd jhana in 5 seconds, as I'm pre-path. Can anyone explain or relate to this?

It's not impossible to get access to jhana really quickly, but based on what you've said so far I'm not confident that this is what's happening. Would you mind describing what you notice in terms of attentional focus, breadth of attention, sensations noticed and any other phenomenological info you can provide? It'd be much easier to ascertain which jhana you're hitting with that information 'cause I don't see anything in your descriptions which point beyond 2nd jhana.

RE: Jhanas getting easier, ingisht getting harder
Answer
8/26/12 9:12 AM as a reply to Tommy M.
Thanks all for your tips. To your questions:

@fivebells

By focus I mean fixation on an object of attention. When I'm in (what I believe is) 4th jhana, the breath is in the background, and deep calm and peace are in the foreground. So, switching to insight from there, what I try to do is to investigate a part of my experience by trying to watch the individual sensations that make it up.
As I have no idea how to investigate deep calm and peace, my mind picks other objects: if there's physical pain or an itch that's an easy one to fixate on. When there isn't I try to do body scanning or return to the breath. When doing insight starting from this state, I find vibrations in the pain, the itch, the contact between my ass and the cushion, etc. but I can't stay focused on any single one as so much doubt arises as to whether this is the right thing to focus on. Of note, if going directly to dry insight from non-jhana, the same things seem solid and I don't feel any vibrations. Thoughts?


@Christian Vlad

The quick-and-dirty 2nd jhana was equally rapturous but nowhere as solid as the usual well-prepared versions. Let's say it was 30% as solid, then the 3rd jhana that followed was 50% as solid, and the 4th was 70% as solid as their well-prepared counterparts. The insight part that followed was pretty crappy, and that's all that really matters to me, so I don't think I'll mess around much with "instant jhanas" except for pure fun.
The hard work to attain jhanas 1-3 was basically changing my usual pattern of "gently let thoughts arise and pass away" which had been great for insight and indeed helped me cross the A&P, to a more bossy "be vigilant for thoughts arising and smack them hard on the head". Either because of or despite that, I started getting access to 1st jhana in one of every three sittings, even progressing to 3rd once. The technique itself was mindfulness of breathing, at the nostrils, trying to solidify the sensations there, no breath counting.
My current technique is a bit different, and jhanas arise more consistently (100% of the times I had slept more than 7 hours the night before) which could be because I'm in EQ now or because of the technique, or some combination of both. I state my goal for the sit (e.g. get to 4th jhana, stay 10 minutes there, then switch to insight and do it for 20 minutes), I sit, I consciously ask myself what my levels of mindfulness, of energy and of motivation are that day, take 3 deep breaths, close my eyes, count 3 sets of 10 outbreaths, then count 3 sets of 10 inbreaths (restarting a set whenever I lose count), then drop the counting. When I drop the counting I'm usually already at access concentration, and 1st jhana ensues between 10 and 20 minutes later. Faster times correlate with higher mindfulness levels, higher solidity of jhana correlates with higher energy levels, quality of insight is usually a combination of energy, mindfulness and motivation.


@Tommy M

Based on your descriptions, it's more likely you're actually getting to 2nd jhana rather than 4th.

Could you describe the way your attention seems to move in what you think is 4th jhana?


It's useful to question my beliefs. I believe I'm attaining 4th jhana because of the factors. That's my way of identifying them, and nothing else. So when I'm in 1st jhana, I feel all its factors, and conscious effort is in the foreground. When I'm in 2nd jhana, I feel all its factors, and rapture is in the foreground. Now let's get more detailed:
- Then I make a conscious decision to drop the rapture. And rapture drops, but bliss is still there. I feel calm and tranquility in the background but what's more apparent is the bliss. Bliss isn't physical pleasure, it's more of a feel-good quality of the mind. Sometimes I purposely wander outside the solidity of the jhana to focus on an object (e.g. an itch) for a minute or so, and then come back. Focusing is rather easy, staying focused is easy as well, and I can feel the object changing, like the itch or pain getting duller or maybe moving an inch on the body. Verbal thoughts still arise but it's easy not to get involved. I call that 3rd jhana.
- Then I make a conscious decision to drop the bliss. And bliss drops, and all is deeply peaceful. Outside noises now appear in my radar, but I feel removed from them, like they are very far away. Initially verbal thoughts still arise, but after 5 or 10 minutes in that state, and if it's solid, I feel as if the left hemisphere of my brain got switched off, and then I don't can't have verbal thoughts anymore, even if I want to. I like that feeling, and the first times I got there I tried to consciously formulate verbal thoughts like "What am I doing? --> Meditating" or "What's 2+2? --> 4" and I couldn't even formulate the question, but only a dim shadow of it. I usually bask in that profound peace for some more 10 minutes and then decide to do something useful of it, namely insight. I call that 4th jhana.
Does it sound to you like 4th jhana, or rather like 2nd?

Personally, I have no idea what you mean by "auditory cues of early DN" or "visual cues of the A&P fireworks" so would you mind describing this a bit more?

During my passage through A&P territory, I used to visualize very defined white energy waves for the last half of the sitting. The last time it happened was the night of my A&P event, when all these white waves condensed at the center of my attention-space and made an incredibly bright white flame that made me cry when I looked at it. That, I call the visual fireworks of A&P. Obviously this will vary from person to person.
Then moving on to the DN, early in that territory I heard a drum-like 5-8Hz sound of the sort described in MCTB under the 7th ñana, for a few minutes in two of my sittings. After that, I went on to hear this sound initially when sitting, but then to my surprise it persisted for 4 days, very subtle and low-volume, but I heard it all throughout the day.

It's good not to have to worry about the formless realms for a while. Thanks for the tip.
Alright, I'll try to become friends with the uneventful sits. It's harder when you have many of those in a row. I haven't had sex with the universe for a while, and even though 2nd jhana kind of feels like that when it's solid, deep inside is so unsatisfying. A&P felt better.
It's hard not to have the mind track my progress while I sit. At least I managed for the verbal commentary to stop, but the background non-verbal leaning of the mind (non-verbal versions of "good stuff! keep going" or "don't you see this isn't getting you anywhere?") is trickier. Any advice to make this easier is welcome.

New breakthroughs?
Answer
8/27/12 6:03 PM as a reply to Nick P.
Hi,
it seems I was like asking for the fireworks, and the fireworks listened and came. This is what just happened in my sit. If anyone more experienced can help elucidate/map what this was all about, I'll be grateful. Sorry about the long post and feel free to skip to the fun part, a lot of things happened today and people here (and I!) like comprehensive descriptions of perceived phenomena emoticon

So today I had mid-to-low levels of energy, and high mindfulness and motivation. My objective was to rise to the 4th jhana with emphasis in solidity rather than speed, and then switch to insight for the last 30 minutes, looking into anicca for 25 minutes and then anatta for 5 minutes.
So I rose to the 4th jhana after fighting with torpor in the early stages, and so 1st and 2nd weren't as solid as I wanted so I spent more time in 3rd so I could rise to 4th with better momentum. Then I got to 4th, spent some time there and started to look for evidence of anicca. So far so good.
I focused on my fingers of my right hand, I felt vibrations at 4-6Hz between the index and middle fingers, much more clearly than usual. Then I switched to the left hand, and the same happened there, while the vibrations from the right hand disappeared. Same thing when looking at one foot, then the other, then the contact between the leg and the cushion. Basically, I could find vibrations wherever I looked for them, and could even feel the ripples of the passing air as vibrations on the tip of my nose. Spotting those vibrations was much easier than earlier sittings. No pain this time. Some itches come up, I focus on them, they become dull and then pass away leaving a noticeable sensation I can find if I focus on the same spot again later. So far it was good stuff, but nothing too exciting.

<Fun starts here> I then felt an itch in my right eye. I focused on it, but then as it started to change, I noticed a primitive three-dimensional quality to the space: the observer was on one plane, and the itch was visually distinguishable in a (darker) plane ahead of it. As I felt it changing with my sense of touch, so did I see it changing for a few moments, before it started getting nearer and nearer to the plane of the observer. But it wasn't the object coming out of the far plane to the near plane: the whole far plane got nearer and nearer until it collapsed onto the plane of the observer. I felt I had fallen into the realm of a much bigger space than before, and lights were arising, flickering and passing away in random places in that space. It felt three-dimensional, but it looked two-dimensional as the background was so dark and the lights weren't solid objects. My eyelids started flickering and emotions of great joy started to arise.
The mind went WILD noticing everything, and so much felt so new, I could see loads of thoughts unleashed, mostly non-verbal but also verbal. I did nothing to control that, until the mind tried to put the experience into coherent sentences. Then I stopped those thoughts ("later" I said to myself) but let the others follow their natural (and turbulent) course. Joy was rampant. Fortunately I was able to maintain the "witness" separate from all the action, which was a lot, and very tempting to get involved with. I settled for going back and forth between (one minute of) laser-focus insight on sensations one by one, and (another minute of) unstructured exploration to see what new and exciting stuff appeared in the radar.
After a while doing that, the mind and the joy got calmer and I started to direct the exploration more purposely. I focused at the back of my head, on my crown area and its sides, and felt that the boundaries between inside and outside started to disappear. That happened more at the crown and to its right, and less so on its left, maybe because I was conscious of some noises coming from the window on my left. I wanted to see how much of my body was still in my radar, so I gave it a sweep and all tactile sensations from the body kept coming, but focused very narrowly to the part being swept, and mostly with vibrations.
Lights on the space weren't as active as before, so I tried hard to penetrate the dark space, to no avail. Joy was still high, so I decided to smile, and when I did, a powerful wave of bliss rippled down my spine. I looked at some vibrations for a while, then smiled again, and I felt a less powerful bliss wave. Then for my investigation into anatta, I asked and kept asking: Where does this joy come from? What are the individual sensations that make up this joy? I wasn't able to pinpoint any sign of an answer.
Then I went back to 4th jhana, stayed there for a minute, and ended the meditation without climbing down the jhanas (I usually do climb them down). A few tears of joy in my eyes. Again, rare occurence, had only happened when I crossed the A&P.
Total time of the sit: 1 hour, no alarm clock.

I stand corrected on the nimitta bit I mentioned in the earlier post: it seems I was seeing it but hadn't made it conscious. There's a light coming from the top of the attention space. If my eyes are "looking" straight ahead, then 30 degrees above there's some light that lasts for as long as the jhanas last, getting weaker as I progress to higher jhanas.

RE: New breakthroughs?
Answer
8/30/12 8:39 AM as a reply to Nick P.
Sorry Nick, I meant to reply to your other post before now but completely forgot! emoticon

What you've written about here and what you described in your previous reply is all 2nd jhana territory, you're not getting as far as 4th and I don't know that you're even getting into 3rd to be honest, but I'll explain why and see if I can offer anything which might help you progress.

So I rose to the 4th jhana after fighting with torpor in the early stages, and so 1st and 2nd weren't as solid as I wanted so I spent more time in 3rd so I could rise to 4th with better momentum. Then I got to 4th, spent some time there and started to look for evidence of anicca. So far so good.

I'd drop the ideas about getting into 4th jhana first of all, there's a lot of things in your descriptions which indicate, to me at least and I may be incorrect, that you're not getting as far as that.

Some itches come up, I focus on them, they become dull and then pass away leaving a noticeable sensation I can find if I focus on the same spot again later. So far it was good stuff, but nothing too exciting.

This is early 2nd vipassana jhana, the arising and passing away of each sensation becomes clearer and clearer until you hit the A&P Event itself, which is what you seem to be describing in this thread.

So I rose to the 4th jhana after fighting with torpor in the early stages, and so 1st and 2nd weren't as solid as I wanted so I spent more time in 3rd so I could rise to 4th with better momentum. Then I got to 4th, spent some time there and started to look for evidence of anicca.

By the time you're actually in 4th jhana, the Three Characteristics are apparent almost immediately as soon as you turn attention towards any sensation. There is no "evidence" of anicca, selflessness leaves no trace, it's apparent in every sensation occurring right here and now, if you were in 4th then you wouldn't need to go looking for anything.

I then felt an itch in my right eye. I focused on it, but then as it started to change, I noticed a primitive three-dimensional quality to the space: the observer was on one plane, and the itch was visually distinguishable in a (darker) plane ahead of it.

Good, but it's still 2nd jhana territory. Keep this sort of attentiveness and investigation going though, good level of detail in your noting here.

But it wasn't the object coming out of the far plane to the near plane: the whole far plane got nearer and nearer until it collapsed onto the plane of the observer. I felt I had fallen into the realm of a much bigger space than before, and lights were arising, flickering and passing away in random places in that space. It felt three-dimensional, but it looked two-dimensional as the background was so dark and the lights weren't solid objects. My eyelids started flickering and emotions of great joy started to arise.

Early to mid-2nd jhana, approaching the A&P Event.

The mind went WILD noticing everything, and so much felt so new, I could see loads of thoughts unleashed, mostly non-verbal but also verbal. I did nothing to control that, until the mind tried to put the experience into coherent sentences. Then I stopped those thoughts ("later" I said to myself) but let the others follow their natural (and turbulent) course. Joy was rampant. Fortunately I was able to maintain the "witness" separate from all the action, which was a lot, and very tempting to get involved with. I settled for going back and forth between (one minute of) laser-focus insight on sensations one by one, and (another minute of) unstructured exploration to see what new and exciting stuff appeared in the radar.

Crossing the A&P itself.

After a while doing that, the mind and the joy got calmer and I started to direct the exploration more purposely. I focused at the back of my head, on my crown area and its sides, and felt that the boundaries between inside and outside started to disappear. That happened more at the crown and to its right, and less so on its left, maybe because I was conscious of some noises coming from the window on my left. I wanted to see how much of my body was still in my radar, so I gave it a sweep and all tactile sensations from the body kept coming, but focused very narrowly to the part being swept, and mostly with vibrations.
Lights on the space weren't as active as before, so I tried hard to penetrate the dark space, to no avail. Joy was still high, so I decided to smile, and when I did, a powerful wave of bliss rippled down my spine. I looked at some vibrations for a while, then smiled again, and I felt a less powerful bliss wave. Then for my investigation into anatta, I asked and kept asking: Where does this joy come from? What are the individual sensations that make up this joy? I wasn't able to pinpoint any sign of an answer.

Late-2nd jhana and moving into early-3rd, the blissfulness most likely a combination of hitting 5th ñana, Dissolution, with strong concetration post-A&P.

I stand corrected on the nimitta bit I mentioned in the earlier post: it seems I was seeing it but hadn't made it conscious. There's a light coming from the top of the attention space. If my eyes are "looking" straight ahead, then 30 degrees above there's some light that lasts for as long as the jhanas last, getting weaker as I progress to higher jhanas.

This sounds more like moving from access concentration into 1st jhana, but nimitta is a slippery one and if you don't completely understand it then it can lead to confusion. If you can notice it, that's great, but it's just a sign or a marker; take that as your focus and stay with it, going back to the breath if you become distracted. In my experience, the nimitta can actually become much, much 'brighter' as you move deeper into jhana, but it's not an essential part of practice.

So, in terms of where you're at and where you've come from: I suspect you've probably been getting into 2nd jhana territory quite consistently, but your emphasis on knowing which jhana you're in is distracting you and keeping you treading water rather than making progress. If you're moving from 1st vipassana jhana into 2nd then you're practicing correctly, so try to go for more consistency in the observation of sensation, not speed 'cause the pace at which sensations present will vary depending on where you're at. I'd suggest dropping trying to identify where you are on the maps, just practice and remain attentive 'cause all of this stuff is so much clearer once you've gone through it repeatedly, with an eye for the phenomenological details and the way sensations present. Knowing all the theory in the world won't make Path occur, it can only happen right now and through attentiveness to your moment-by-moment experience; theorizing and guessing won't get you anywhere, unless you're noting when and how "theorizing" or "guessing" arise as mental objects.

Your descriptions are good, you're practicing well and can relate these things quite clearly so I see no reason why you shouldn't progress, just a bit of refinement in the technique and the way in which you approach your practice should take you further pretty quickly. One of the best pieces of advice I've ever been given was to get mindfulness running before your arse hits the cushion, so try spending 15 minutes or so prior to your sit just being mindful of what's happening at the sensate level in your everyday life, whether you're doing the dishes or e-mailing someone it's all dripping with insight if you know how to look.

Useful? If not, feel free to ask whatever you like and I'll see if I can explain it a bit clearer.

Best of luck, keep that practice strong and consistent.

P.S. I was re-reading what I'd written and noticed this line in your post:

Fortunately I was able to maintain the "witness" separate from all the action, which was a lot, and very tempting to get involved with.

This is fun to play around with...look at what implies a "witness" or an "observer", look at the patterns of sensation which make that up and see if there's anything special or different about them. If you're able to be aware of the "witness", that's good 'cause you can really do some damage to the illusion of an "I", as well as the illusion of continuity by investigating that. See if you can "dwell" in that sense of a witness, rest in it and become it so that you can experientially understand what it is that causes those sensations to be identified as that which witnesses, a "me" or a subject to the apparent objects arising. emoticon

RE: New breakthroughs?
Answer
8/30/12 6:04 PM as a reply to Tommy M.
Thanks a lot Tommy for your answer, the advice for my practice is really, really useful.

I'm having a bit of a hard time reconciling the various pieces of theory though, and the conceptual mind needs to get that sorted to help my practice via motivation. I know that direct experience is going to show itself in the end, and it has been doing so pretty bluntly.

So these bits don't fit together:
- You are saying I'm hitting 2nd jhana and not 4th. Let me clarify that I'm talking about samatha jhana, not vipassana jhana. The reason I say I'm hitting 4th jhana is that there's no trace of rapture or bliss, and I hit that state after purposely dropping the bliss and the rapture. How can I be in 2nd jhana and feel no rapture? To me, that's either 4th jhana by definition or, alternatively, it's no absorption state at all.

- Saying that by practicing samatha one advances vipassana and viceversa rings very true to me. But going from there to comparing a samatha jhana, which is a transient absorption state, to its corresponding vipassana jhana, which is a stage of the practice and a whole lot more in terms of life experience, is incredibly misleading. It's the thing that has confused me the most, by far, of all of this theory and maps and stuff. All the rest seems pretty self-consistent. Can you explain?
- My experience (and theoretical understanding) of vipassana jhanas is more like something measured in weeks/months off-cushion, not minutes on-cusion. For example: I hit the A&P in May after being in that territory for a few weeks, then in DN for a few months, then in low EQ for about a month, now have been in high EQ for a few weeks. I say so because of my moods off the cushion, my attitude to the world, my concentration abilities and my motivation have all followed the patterns described in the maps. I felt in high EQ before the experience I had on the 27th, and I still feel in high EQ as I type this. If I had crossed the A&P 3 days ago, I should be either feeling A&P stuff wearing off or DN symptoms arising. I went through a DN, and this doesn't feel like one. Maybe an alternative explanation was that it was simply the usual, conceptual mind that was joyous like hell at the sight of a new breakthrough in the practice.
- Some possible answer to that is a piece of theory I read somewhere in DhO or KFD: if I'm in DN it means that the cutting edge of my practice is the DN, then if I'm consistent or inspired on a given sit I can cross the A&P and hit the DN. If I'm in EQ it means that the cutting edge of my practice is EQ, then in the best case I could sit, cross the A&P, sit through the DN and hit EQ. That doesn't stand up to reality testing though. When I sit I start with samatha, then switch to vipassana and when I do that I start noticing phenomena at the level I'm in. If I'm in DN I don't cross the A&P in that sit. If I'm in high EQ I don't have to fight the DN ghosts in that sit.

RE: New breakthroughs?
Answer
9/13/12 9:00 AM as a reply to Nick P.
I think the important question is -- are the Jhanas factors just arising strongly in strong access concentration or is it full absorption?

From your description of 4th jhana:

Then I make a conscious decision to drop the bliss. And bliss drops, and all is deeply peaceful. Outside noises now appear in my radar, but I feel removed from them, like they are very far away. Initially verbal thoughts still arise, but after 5 or 10 minutes in that state, and if it's solid, I feel as if the left hemisphere of my brain got switched off, and then I don't can't have verbal thoughts anymore, even if I want to.


That state sounds like Jhana to me. .

"The reason I say I'm hitting 4th jhana is that there's no trace of rapture or bliss, and I hit that state after purposely dropping the bliss and the rapture. How can I be in 2nd jhana and feel no rapture? To me, that's either 4th jhana by definition or, alternatively, it's no absorption state at all."


All the Jhana factors can arise and pass just hanging out in access concentration. Like you could have a lot of piti and then the piti gets replaced by contentment, but one is still just hanging out in access concentration in my opinion. Especially if one is expecting that to happen.

Your previous definition of 4th Jhana makes sense for a full absorption state. i.e. You can't think thoughts. There is Jhana imperfections--i.e. popping out of Jhana to think a thought every once in a blue moon, then you are just floating around in lots of piti, seeing feeling a nimitta (or whatever factors) in strong access, and then popping back in.

In my opnion the difference between strong Jhana factors and actual Jhana is where the "light Jhana" folks get confused.

This is why Paw Auk Saydaw won't even consider Jhana factors until the student can go 30 minutes without any coarse excitation---and wouldn't expect real Jhana until one pretty much never looses the meditation object over multiple sittings. Or the Tibetans don't consider Jhana/Dhyana until one has completed the whole Shamata map (That is if they consider it at all).

Anywhoo---- I have found looking at the Tibetan Shamata map and then trying to fit in the Jhanas described by the Buddha/Visuddhimagga ect. over them extremely helpful. Looking at the Tibetan Shamata map has helped me get some clarity into where I am concentration wise----which for some reason just helps.

I heard B. Allan Wallace claim that first Jhana only arises at the very end of the Shamata map -- which to my mind seems way too linear to what the experience actually is. The Tibetans probably make the mistake of not allowing the Jhana factors to pull one through to deeper and deeper states of concentration.

For example, falling into Jhana around Stage 4 of Shamata (never ever loosing the meditation object) seems logical to me. Heck anywhere in stage 3 - 9 seems like anyone could fall into Jhana depending on their proclivity.

By Tibetan Shamata map I'm going by either "The Attention Revolution" By B. Allan Wallace or "Turning the Mind Into An Ally" (P.114) by Sakyong Mipham.

Sorry, I'm probably not qualified to answer, but I couldn't help but pipe in.

Either way, you are making incredibly rapid progress!

Best, Luke

Samatha/vipassana divide and equanimity ramblings
Answer
10/14/12 5:51 PM as a reply to Luke Avedon.
I still believe that what I described above as 4th jhana was 4th jhana. I don't know the Tibetan Shamata map so I can't really comment on that.

I usually pour my energy 70/30 samatha or 70/30 vipassana depending on what I feel right for the sitting. I tried to do 100% vipassana and 100% samatha and neither works for me. In the previous descriptions, I was doing 70/30 samatha (let's call it "wetter"). As of late, I've been doing more times 70/30 vipassana (let's call it "drier"), and some things started to get a lot clearer. I've been starting with 70/30 vipassana straight from access concentration or soft 1st samatha jhana, and other times jumping there from 2nd jhana. I no longer bother to go all the way to 4th samatha jhana, as it takes time and I prefer to devote a larger chunk of my sits to vipassana. I have explored the 4 vipassana jhanas as much as I had explored the 4 samatha jhanas, and some things started to get clearer. In my experience, each samatha jhana shares some flavors with the corresponding vipassana jhana but they are not the same, and the similarity is easier to see when the sit is drier than when it's wetter. I think that is why my interpretations and Tommy's were so disconnected. Now that I started to explore the territory more from the vipassana point of view, I re-read his comments and they make a lot more sense.

Regarding this:
- Some possible answer to that is a piece of theory I read somewhere in DhO or KFD: if I'm in DN it means that the cutting edge of my practice is the DN, then if I'm consistent or inspired on a given sit I can cross the A&P and hit the DN. If I'm in EQ it means that the cutting edge of my practice is EQ, then in the best case I could sit, cross the A&P, sit through the DN and hit EQ. That doesn't stand up to reality testing though. When I sit I start with samatha, then switch to vipassana and when I do that I start noticing phenomena at the level I'm in. If I'm in DN I don't cross the A&P in that sit. If I'm in high EQ I don't have to fight the DN ghosts in that sit.

I now understand and do see the cycling. In the wetter sits, the coarse sensations of 1st vipassana jhana and the shitty sensations of 3rd are nicely wrapped for me and all seems blissful all the way through. 1J feels like early 4ñ, 2J like late 4ñ, 3J like 5ñ and 4J like 11ñ, and all of them good stuff. In the drier sits, the sensations seem to come almost straight from the textbooks: I can recognize elements of ñanas 3-11 in succession as the sit goes on. I can't really feel each of the dukkha ñanas separately every time, only some of them each time. This ability to see and recognize the individual ñanas is what keeps me drawn to somewhat drier sits in detriment of the wetter ones. That's good from a motivational point of view, but from other posts I've read, progress will come hand in hand with a bigger proportion of wet sits.

This quote from Kenneth Folk really helped me grasp the fact that the instantaneous point where you are moves along the seconds, while the cutting edge moves along the months:
"Because of the natural progression of development, a yogi will tend to spend a certain amount of time developing or fleshing out each stratum of mind. They are developed in order, one by one (and then again, at a deeper level, as in a spiral). And the "cutting edge" of your practice, the one that forms the temporary ceiling of how far up the spectrum of consciousness you can go in any given sitting, will color your experience all day long. That's why a yogi whose cutting edge is the A&P thinks life is beautiful and getting better. And that's why a yogi whose cutting edge is the dukkha nanas thinks life is dreadful and getting worse: it's all about where you are encountering the stickiness of your own mind. In other words, the place you haven’t yet made peace with draws you like a magnet.


I'm feeling I'm getting stuck in EQ, and getting a bit bored of it. I want a Path. Sometimes very late into my sits I feel I no longer want a Path and could stay in EQ for ages as all is so cool. But that "I don't care" doesn't stick, and the craving for Path comes back soon enough. In one of those sits, consciousness stopped for a split-second, and when it came back, the sense of self was nowhere to be found. I was left wondering "Was that emptiness?". Then other blips in consciousness failed to appear in the following days, and the sense of self returned to normal some two or three days later, but it was so cool while it lasted.

I'm very busy in my job, pour massive amounts of energy in it, it makes me happy from a mundane point of view and I'm quite certain that's slowing me down in my practice. I don't see that changing in the short term, so I'll try to go to my first retreat (weekend retreat) in a couple months to see if I can get enough momentum to pop. According to folks around here, a weekend retreat won't be enough so I'll try to make some time for a week-long retreat early next year.

In terms of technique, I'm mostly noticing rather than noting, though I do note sometimes to avoid the oh-so-easy "spacing out" when hanging out in EQ and when I want to nail down some tricky thoughts like "craving for Path", "bored", "desire to get up", "wondering when the timer will go off", but still not always. Sometimes noticed phenomena get too detailed and I can't capture it in a note so I drop noting. My default technique is noticing though, not noting.

I've been feeling a lot more tension in the temples in the last month, almost in every sit. I'm quite visual, so it was natural for me to go "looking for" visual experiences. I only recently realized that I shouldn't go looking for anything, but just be aware of what's already there, even if it's not visual (and therefore "easy to notice"). The eyes keep focusing on "lights" in the back of the eyelids, and from time to time I need to "blink", and when I do that, those lights disappear and it takes a few seconds until they reappear. During which I note/notice "annoyed" emoticon

Recently my sleep has been much more shallow and I used to be more tired throughout my days than my raw count of hours slept would suggest. And I'd take quite a few minutes to fall asleep. Now I do pure samatha up to 2nd jhana before sleeping and it's a whole new world. It's not Nirodha Samapatti but sleep quality has improved so much!