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Out of Gratitude

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Out of Gratitude
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2/4/10 7:02 AM
I have been lurking around this forum for some 10 months or so but aside from learning from the advice that is freely given in here I have not really felt the need to add anything to the discussion, until now when the gratitude that I feel towards all those in here, in particular the pioneers who are here helping so many, makes me write the following.

I crossed the A&P some 4/5 years ago, after having taken MDMA. At the time I could not tell what has changed, apart from the fact that the way in which I was experiencing my reality has drastically and irrevocably changed (I was aware that how I was previously was never coming back). I followed the crazed spiritual seeker cliche by buying a huge load of books about spirituality (about which I had no previous interest) and started ceaselessly talking about these issues to my partner at the time, to her great dread and surprise. There were all kinds of weird experiences making things worse - reality synchronizing with the music I was listening to, moments of sheer uncontrollable beauty, strange dreams, sleep paralysis, seeing light. 6 months later I was hit by what I would much later recognize as the Dark Night, which has plagued my life for the next 3 years.

At the end of those 3 years (and after going through the A&P two more times after having burned my mind out with drugs) I came across Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, which I read, did not understand and yet knew to be true. I played around with yoga and samatha in the period of those 3 years, which was interesting but lead to no relief or understanding of what I was going through. By the time that the Dark Night became unbearable I recognized that there was something that needed to be done and I sat to do vipassana for the first time. After about 5 or 10 minutes I broke through the dark night, noticing vibrations all over my body, arising and passing in quick succession. For the next two days I practiced noting on and off the cushion with some tangible results. I noticed that there was energy flowing through my body (I was aware of this before but not witch such clarity) and that there was an energy field around my body which was clearly observable (I have been able to 'feel' this field around myself and other people since). I also noticed that there was an armour of some sort around my head beyond which my awareness could not go, trying repeatedly to go beyond it and banging into it every time. Throughout those two days I felt the sense that something big was going to happen, that there was something just around the corner (or more accurately, just in front of me). At the end of those two days, just before going to bed, I raised my hand to look at my watch and everything disappeared (that is, my watch, my hand, any sensory phenomena, the sense of observer, everything), after the shortest of moments everything reappeared and i was left wondering what the hell happened.

There were some pleasant changes that happened to my personality (my being?) during or after those two days - I became calmer, less reactive and this sense of having to defend myself from (fight against) the world irrevocably disappeared. There were some things that I 'knew' that I did not know before.

At the time I was working quite a lot and the new found ease and peace meant that I stopped practicing. 4 months later I had a different job and the dark night was back and this time it was really kicking my ass, albeit in a slightly different way. I started practicing again, decided to only work 3 days a week and put everything I had into meditation. I made it into equanimity and then dropped back to the beginning, meditating 1-7 hours a day. Perhaps the biggest prize I received from raising the meditation time was the realization that heightened awareness is completely and utterly removed from bliss, altered states and profundity of any sort (although the quality of the awareness changes somewhat in some of the stages). This time, since I was going through the stages of insight via meditation, I received some certainty over which stage is which and how their textures differ, finding out that my analysis of which stages I was in previously was completely and utterly correct. I started by acquiring the ability to note thought according to the flavour that it had (ie. rather than noting thought I would note wishing, analyzing, wanting, philosophizing), moved to the predominant tension, pain and irritation, then arrived at the A&P, with the lights, shaking, visions, hotness, inability to sleep, delusions of grandeur (which seemed accurate due to the complete and utter lack of humility in this stage). When the A&P finished there was a huge tangible difference, as if something was lost and the fear set in that I was about to enter the Dark Night. At this time I also realized how much I had invested in this map of insight and how utterly ridiculous it was to predict my moment-to-moment experience, or be afraid of what was to come based on what the map states. Observing my experiential reality seemed much preferable. Apart from some mild free-flowing anxiety and unease I did not experience any of the Dark Night swampiness that I have come to expect and moved very freely to equanimity. In the evening I had a very grieving conversation with my past partner, throughout which I realized that sadness and grief could quite easily and naturally coexist with peace and happiness.

Just before waking up this morning there was once again an indescribable shift, having been asleep at the time I do not exactly remember how it manifested, perhaps it will come to me with time. Regardless, when I woke up, I was not in equanimity anymore. Riding the bus home shortly after, I realized that whenever awareness is shifted to a new object, there is a brief moment before the sense of observer arrives, as if it was trying to catch up the whole time, never quite making it. Prior to this I was aware that it was possible to be aware of something without the sense of observer being there but now I was able to observe it at will. - which concludes my story.

There are some points I wanted to make based on my extremely limited, yet pleasantly eventful, experience. First, I mainly made progress through doing what was natural, rather than pushing and shoving. This meant that I changed technique often outside of sits, while sticking to vipassana while sitting. I generally simply stayed with awareness without any technique in everyday life. I found that it is extremely pleasant and freeing to pay attention in between the intention to do something and doing something (ie. paying attention to the hand coming to a mug of tea in between the intention to drink it and the drinking it).

In vipassana I generally noted using sound as noting by words is often not quick enough, or seems incredibly unnatural to me. A lot of the time I did not note at all apart from noting the different shades of thought, which in my case very quickly leads to wandering. Even while noting I generally left my awareness to freefloat, only returning to the abdomen/breath if it was entirely necessary. I took advantage of strong sensations whenever they occurred - ie. shivering, shaking, energy in limbs, vibrating buses, loud music, or the beat of my heart. Whenever I caught myself forcing myself to see sensations as they should be rather than they way they were I gave up the force. I also found that it is preferable to change posture, or type of meditation, rather than stopping altogether.

I have been using resolutions before each and every sit and in times when my concentration was significantly powered up. They range from the general (I do this for the benefit of myself and all other beings) to more specific, aiming at the problems I have run into before (I will note any thoughts arising and return to the sensations of the abdomen). I found that in order to make resolutions work, they must be genuine, honest, felt and said with the attitude of strength, stability and firmness.

Lastly, I do not believe that the gung ho attitude is necessary for getting good at this stuff. While it makes sense for outgoing, energetic personalities, it does not feel completely right for my rather calm, introverted personality (it is not as motivating). I have gained a lot from pushing myself beyond my known limits, increasing duration of my sits, sitting through pain and displeasure and paying attention as close to 24/7 as I can, but I have also found that I know best what works and that if I follow this silent voice I do better than through sheer force and meticulous application of a single technique. Constance Casey, who can also be found on this forum, told me that this stuff is improv all the way and that seems to say it all. To support my case further, my ex-partner who has not done any formal vipassana, simply being aware often and learning how to love /simply loving perhaps?/ (I could not describe what she means by this), has arrived at pretty much the same understanding as me, cycles more intensely than me and is generally a very amazing person.

To finish this rather long rant up (to those who read it all I do most sincerely apologize), I am not at all certain, neither do I hugely invest in caring, what exactly has happened in the past 5 years, perhaps more importantly, in the past 6 months. Analyzing what is already done seems much less sensible than moving on, with certainty that enlightenment is achievable and that it is an incredibly good idea to pursue it/realize it. I give my story with the hope that it will make sense and help someone else, the same way that other peoples stories have hugely helped me. I write all of this in the deepest gratitude to Daniel Ingram and his book, without which I would have had to search more drastically, spending more time in misunderstood suffering. I am also immensely grateful to the existence of the Internet and to everybody else who has helped me along the way.

RE: Out of Gratitude
Answer
2/4/10 8:17 AM as a reply to Pavel _.
I second that gratitude! This website and Daniel and his book were pivotal in getting me to where I am today. emoticonemoticonemoticonemoticonemoticonemoticonemoticon

RE: Out of Gratitude
Answer
2/4/10 12:02 PM as a reply to Pavel _.
"I am not at all certain, neither do I hugely invest in caring, what exactly has happened in the past 5 years, perhaps more importantly, in the past 6 months. Analyzing what is already done seems much less sensible than moving on, with certainty that enlightenment is achievable and that it is an incredibly good idea to pursue it/realize it."

Pavel:

Wonderful!

So nice to just be with now, with today, as it is, and with that pure and simple desire to know your true nature.
Much gratitude back at ya, for your practice and for sharing this. I feel the dharma is light, and as we relax more and open more, -well, you'll see how ongoing it all is.

with metta, Constance

RE: Out of Gratitude
Answer
2/4/10 3:55 PM as a reply to Constance Casey.
That's an amazing story! I'm glad you shared it here. I think everyone is (or can be) very grateful for MCTB and the DhO. It's nice for it to actually be articulated every once in a while, because gratitude is one of the bases for having the motivation to keep practicing.

It's interesting that you had your 1st A&P event with MDMA. While I certainly worry about people hearing about drug use giving insight results and trying to replicate those results, I also think the stories need to be told. Sometimes, a substance/plant plays a role in the path, and that's not something that we seem to have a lot of information about. I mean, there's The Psychedelic Experience, which fills a pretty unique niche, but this kind of thing seems more valuable. It's not a theoretical attempt to fit hallucinogenic experiences into the Tibetan Book of the Dead's scheme; it's a report of the actual insight results that you had from using MDMA.

I hope you continue to have great results with your path.

RE: Out of Gratitude
Answer
2/6/10 1:23 AM as a reply to J Adam G.
Yeah, Gratitude! It is one of the very best of the emotions, I think.

I am very grateful to this place also. I have nearly no local dharma community, and to this place is my refuge and support also, and it greatly enhances my life and sense of doing something fun and useful in the world and being a part of something good.

Thanks to the many, many people who read, participate, interact, strive, answer, question, and support this place in various ways, the tech support people, Chris Stavros at Omegabit for hosting it, and all the people who helped set it up, such as Vince Horn, Lee Moore, and all the rest.

Thanks to all the people who helped make MCTB what it is, everyone who taught me and let me experiment by trying to teach them, to all the people who pissed me off and made me passionate and angry enough to write it, to everyone who helped run the places I practiced, to my parents, to the people I have been in relationships with and had to deal with dharma stuff, to Duncan Barford, Ian Blakely, Oliver Rathbone, and all the people at Aeon who published MCTB, and to everyone else who helped and added richness and texture to the thing along the way.

Yeah, Gratitude!

RE: Out of Gratitude
Answer
2/6/10 7:26 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Constance: Thank you for you help!

J Adam G: I strongly believe that anyone attempting to use drugs to make progress on the path of insight would have to be insane. Unlike one friend of mine who crossed the A&P while under the effect of LSD (perhaps this is more common?), I have not had any such experiences on drugs. What happened to me is that after the taking of drugs, (next day to a week later), an insight stage arose out of nowhere (A&P or Dark Night). MDMA seems to have played a role in the arrival of A&P 2 or 3 times, while psilocybin took me straight to the Dark Night. I do have to make two further observations though, first, most people I know do not react to MDMA (or other drugs) the way I do (I get intensely present and sharp, while a lot of people lose themselves in the extasy). Second, getting into insight through drugs rather than meditation does not give one the benefit of learning the skills that will then allow him/her to finish the whole damn thing (in my case, no chance of moving though the cycle beyond the dark night until I started meditating). I really, really screwed myself up in the past 5 years and while I feel that I have benefited from the whole thing, it has been very unpleasant a lot of the time (although it appears that there is no lasting damage).

As for what the drugs actually do, in relation to the insight cycle, it appears to me that specific drugs will create experiences that are very similar, or share certain characteristics, with certain insight stages (perhaps samatha jhanas? - I have only run into those in insight and by mistake /by solidifying/ and as such am not capable of making the comparison). I know of a lot of people who have had a Dark Night-like episode on psychedelics, some people get the A&P on strong doses of psychedelics. For me, MDMA (from what I can remember, not having taken anything in a quite a while now) is somehow similar to equanimity (in the texture, sharpness and spaciousness). Other drugs I have taken share certain other characteristics with other stages.

Daniel: Gratitude!