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Dharma Diagnostic Clinic, aka "What was that?"

Manipulating my experience on retreat

Manipulating my experience on retreat
12/9/12 7:05 PM
What was that? I just came back from a weekend retreat at Gaia House. I loved that place and I'll be back. Highly recommended.

I just wanted to ask people here about this experience I had yesterday (Saturday). I don't think it was Path, but what was it?

Here it goes:
I arrived at the retreat on Friday afternoon, with crappy momentum and after a long and hard week at work. Little time for practice in that week and previous weekend, pretty uneventful sits, and worst of all, found myself lost in my stuff a lot more than usual during them.
During that evening I fought (read: embraced) the Dark Night demons, sat through the general aversion to sitting and bought into the peacefulness that this new place offered. Felt pretty strong pressure on the temples. By the last sit of the night, I was all OK with sitting, getting concentrated pretty quickly and less lost in my stuff. After that we went to rest, and I stayed awake in bed for about one hour, lost in stuff again, not being able to meditate, sleep (though I was quite tired), and getting pretty frustrated with myself.
Saturday morning, I woke up 10 minutes before the wake-up bell, feeling engaged. During the first sit though, I had a couple moments of spacing out, not lost in content, but in la la land, still waking up, but very peaceful feeling. Very strong pressure on the temples. The breakfast was a 3 in this scale.
Walks were not very insightful, I did it in the gardens and was still getting acquainted with the place, so the mind wouldn't stop saying "look at that! and that! did that cute girl just smile at me? (noted: desire)".
Second sit, fully awake, feeling energetic, still engaged, peaceful. Mind leaned towards concentration. Within 10 minutes I was absorbed. I just let it be as it was, and moved up to 4th samatha jhana which is the highest I can usually access (but seldom bother to: usually jump from 2nd into insight practice). Pressure on the right temple was now like somebody was stabbing me there. Walking period after that was just basking in that deep peace, oh I'm so OK with the world.

Third sit (last before lunch). Really energetic, even more engaged, even more peaceful. No pull towards absorption. Resolution: let go of this whole stream entry thing. Practice oh so easy. A group of 15 construction workers having a go at my right temple with pneumatic hammers. A bit of noting, oh so easy, seeing the Four Foundations (see: first gear), oh so obvious (noted: pride). A 7 in the scale above, with a couple peeks into 8. With some 15 minutes left, my torso started swaying slowly. I let it be, and then 3 minutes later I was engaged in detailed noting and some frames disappeared from the picture. Judging from the last position I remember before the event, and the first one after it, it must have lasted two seconds.
Peace became profound at this point, like it came from the guts, like the whole body was in such a bliss and peace that I had only felt something comparable after a previous near miss on stream entry. Felt like someone opened a tap and the pressure on the right temple was now draining onto the crown, which was now vibrating mildly. After 10 or 15 seconds, the thought "what was that?" arose, and then I started playing games. So let's suppose I'm enlightened, let's see if I can jump jhanas and ñanas (noted: planning thought). Then I was able to conjure them in order, out of order, leaping from (samatha) 4th to 2nd, to 3rd, to 1st, to 2nd-soft, to 2nd-hard, to 4th, and from there to the 11th ñana, down to the 4th, up to the 6th, 7th. I was amused at how easy it was to go from non absorption to absorption and back, how less daunting the dukkha ñanas felt when I knew I could make them go away at a whim.
Then another meditator started coughing a lot at the back of the hall, so much that she had to get up leave. I could feel some visceral compassion arising for her, whereas in previous situations I would have noted "schadenfreude" (heh, full disclosure emoticon ). Mind feels fascinated at this, then it jumps to conclude that was Path, then there's pride, then there's amusement at the mind jumping the gun so fast.
The rest of the day I alternated between letting things be and controlling the experience, the mind was pretty (noted: ) fascinated by this new ability to "bend spacetime" like this. Each sit would feel like starting at a different point in the maps, but with an underlying feeling of Equanimity. Looking at my hand and moving it would seem like it's not me moving it, but just an intention arising, and then the hand moving. Looking at my own image in the mirror, would seem very weird in a way I can't explain. Like a mixture of seeing my own face, someone else's face, and a strange object. Pressure at the temples would still build up, but upon looking at it, it would immediately drain onto the crown and disappear.
Example of manipulating experience: an itch arises during a sitting, then I say "let's look at it in A&P-style", then the itch starts vibrating wildly and throwing blissful sparks all over. After a minute, I say "ok, now how does it feel in equanimity", and see how it vibrates quietly and moves slowly. "Good, thanks. Fear, please.", and I see it stay put and growing in annoyingness, and a nearby yogi conveniently coughs; body is shaken by sudden rush of adrenalin. "Re-observation", and I watch it vibrating wildly again, but this time feeling like out of sync and spitting out adrenalin from it in all directions.
I had next to no problems with pain yesterday, but I remember a few times that back pain appeared. I once tried observing it A&P-style, and it immediately exploded in bodily bliss. I tried that again twice during the day and didn't work reliably. One of those times it just started spurting bliss but didn't dissolve, and the other time it just stayed put.
In one of the late afternoon sits, in which I had resolved not to manipulate experience, it felt quite peaceful, and near the end of the sit I kind of spaced out for a few seconds, and next thing I remember I was seeing A&P fireworks.
All sensations were so, so obvious, that at some point in the day I stopped making effort and instead of allowing stuff to happen, that prompted some spacing out. Then more spacing out. Then more. Whenever I returned to check if the "powers" were still there, they were.

When we got to the time to go to bed, I kept playing with this for like half an hour, and then thought: let's see if I can use this new cool "power" to knock myself asleep. Next thing I remember, I woke up with the morning bell. The "powers" were still there but were a lot less spectacular, and less tempting to use. And overall, the underlying mood was grumpiness rather than peace for most of today. Concentration was lacking. Peace ended up returning in the last sit of the retreat, a metta one, and I felt balanced and normal the rest of the day. Pressure at the temples: nearly gone, very mild. Relationship with the self: pretty much the same as usual, this is my strongest reason to say not Path.

But what was that?

RE: Manipulating my experience on retreat
12/10/12 8:41 AM as a reply to Nick P.
What happens when you sit now?

RE: Manipulating my experience on retreat
12/11/12 7:07 PM as a reply to Russell ..
Just sat for the first time since the retreat. Yesterday I had the end of year drinks with guys at work and didn't feel like sitting after all those beers. I guess I would have spent half of the sit embedded, the other half asleep.

45 minutes. Initially feeling very engaged and curious, no resistance to sitting. All timing references below are just estimates, I didn't open my eyes to check the timer each time. Sorry about the long post.
Sat down with the idea of counting 3x10 outbreaths then 2x10 inbreaths, then watching the breath (en route to jhana) or doing noting/noticing (en route to insight). I had hardly closed my eyes and was invaded with spontaneous eye fluttering and strobing visuals. I managed to count all those breaths but the mind was racing with thoughts so I ended up switching noting and counting between the "background" and "foreground" of the attention. Every time a thought came up, it was obvious. I had to scratch my eye, I thought an eyelash had gotten in it (not sure if it did).
After counting I just focused on the breath at the nostrils, and decided not to manipulate my experience, just trying to see what happened. I got to a very mild version of 1st jhana, and kept at watching the breath. It was very pleasant, it was the first time in a while that I just let the jhana unfold without trying to guide the experience. Instead of 2nd jhana, what followed was a set of very clear visuals of black "fire" rising on a white background. By this point maybe 10 minutes had elapsed.
After some 2 minutes the visuals subsided and I got pretty relaxed. Thoughts were a bit more slippery to note, and a couple mildly irritating itches appeared here and there, and equally irritating vibrations appeared on the upper half of the face. I relaxed my face, but the vibrations were still there. If someone put a finger on one of my cheeks, I'm pretty sure they would've felt it. This probably lasted a minute or two. Then some visuals returned, but they were a lot milder, facial vibrations subsided, I spaced out a couple times (not embedded in any thought in particular) and noted on and off (off means just noticing), mainly thoughts related to practice and progress, and physical sensations. Uncharacteristic of my sits, there were no itches, no pain, no timer curiosity.
By this point, maybe 20 minutes had passed. Then a lot of bright lights started to strobe fast in the visual field, brighter than when I had just sat, but still strobing and not changing while "on". No discontinuities noticed. Face tensing up again, eyes focusing on the visuals. Exhilaration, mind jumping the gun, path thoughts. Lasted about one minute. Then some 3 to 5 minutes of feeling annoyed at nothing in particular, a thought arising "am I scripting all of this?", little clarity, still no itches nor pain but some timer curiosity, and many thoughts about practice escaping the noting mind. Then this would again clear up, and noti(ci)ng sped up, but still missing many thoughts about progress. Other thoughts were duly caught. I felt something in the back which I noted as "placeholder for pain", it felt like an empty box that would normally contain pain, but now was empty and still would feel distinct from the non-painful part of the back. Embedded into progress thoughts for a couple minutes. The mind started racing with this kind of thoughts and it was too much for my noting. Feeling tone very pleasant. I felt less grumpy than usual at this lack of noting (which I only realise in hindsight). After a bit, decided to tell the mind to shut up, and it somewhat obeyed, keeping the babbling about progress in the background. All the while, heart racing but rate very variable, increasing during in-breaths and decreasing on out-breaths. Then I followed the breath for a couple minutes, interspersing a note maybe every 5 or 10 seconds. Progress thoughts were less, they were noted more, but still felt far from 100% accuracy. 35 minute point here.
No discontinuities noticed. Suddenly bright lights came again, this time lighting up and dimming down fast (but not strobing). This came together with pleasant mild vibrations on the back of my neck, that came and went every 3 seconds or so, during about half a minute. I couldn't note this well as I was concentrated on the back of my neck, but I think there were also some kind of vibrations on the chest area, unrelated to the heartbeats (now a bit slower). All that passed away and I found myself with a plain visual field, practice thoughts still there but calmed down. Mild pain in the back, in the same area where the "placeholder" had been 20 minutes before. Then the timer went off and startled the hell out of me.

Off the cushion, I've been feeling pretty relaxed and energetic at the same time. Pretty stressful days at work but I seem to have a bit more clarity of thought and it's easier to stay calm in the maelstrom. Last week was crazy and I usually felt my head had too much, this week is no different but I'm taking it easy a lot more. I have more motivation for practicing off-cushion, and noting things is easier and more of my "default" mode though there's a lot of progress needed on that front. I am noticeably more fluent and able to speak faster in English, which is not my first language. This is by virtue of stopping less to check my grammar while and after saying a sentence. This last thing had also happened after I meditated for the first time, after I crossed the A&P, and after my first incursion into low EQ, but not after the near-miss in September. Not sure how long all this is going to last, but I like it.
All that said, I didn't notice any clear fruition since the "event" on Saturday, and I don't feel anything fundamentally different in my relationship with the world or with myself. i.e. maybe it's that I just got very relaxed on the retreat and slept my share of hours in the last couple days. I don't feel particularly "at home" or had any mindblowing insights before what happened on Saturday or saw anything paradoxical about the self.


RE: Manipulating my experience on retreat
12/12/12 9:22 AM as a reply to Nick P.
It does sound like Review cycling but it is easy to script these things sometimes. Give it some time. Maybe see if you can ask for Jhanas 1-4 out of order and see what happens.

RE: Manipulating my experience on retreat
12/12/12 7:04 PM as a reply to Russell ..
Yes, jhanas (and ñanas) out of order was the thing that I practiced the most after this event on retreat, and the jhanas appeared in quite an obvious way. I'm trying them right now and can still access them, but they just feel forced, and not rewarding at all.

Haven't sat again yet - work and other stuff are sucking up all of my time - but I can share some more things I noticed off cushion:

The changes off cushion that I talked about yesterday, held up today, even after sleeping less hours.

I feel less anxiety around people. I was born (and will die) an introvert, and being around/chatting to new people or distant acquaintances always made me feel some kind of anxiety. This has decreased subtly but noticeably. It may well come back next week though, let's see.

Lots of unusually creative ideas about work are coming up during my day.

Now something that will sound reeeeally scripted, is that I recognise that a shitty but subtle sensation in the chest would come up together with this people-related anxiety. Only today I recognised that that was usually the case, upon realising it's absence.

Decreased need for sleep.

Still, I'm trying to distinguish which of these things would also appear after a relaxing spa weekend. Not so easy just three days later, but overall feeling tone off cushion has been consistent so far.

RE: Manipulating my experience on retreat
12/13/12 4:24 PM as a reply to Nick P.
Off cushion, exceptional fluency and creativity are fading. There is still a feeling that a few of the physical manifestations of anxiety are less pronounced, that I'm subtly more directly in touch with my sensate world, and that paying attention is easier than before. Thoughts that arise are seen slightly more clearly and though I'm embedded in them quite a lot, I've seen there's now a fraction of a second where I can abort getting embedded. Although 99% of times I still feel not fast or engaged enough as to hit the abort switch on time.

Experienced a desire to meditate twice today, once in the tube and another time in the office. I indulged this desire both times, 15 minutes each, and practice headed naturally towards concentration.

Sat 45 minutes. Almost a pure concentration sit. Count 3x10 outbreaths then 2x10 inbreaths. While doing that, strobing visuals did appear but were mild and passed quickly, similar to before the "event".
Something new appeared while counting: a strong tension / pressure in the third eye area, which I don't remember having had in a while. It appeared as pressure initially, and didn't go away when I relaxed my face - it became tension instead. I focused on that spot and also pointed my eyes a bit below the horizon rather than a bit above (as usual). These two things brought about quite strong and natural concentration, no need to force it.
Spent the rest of the sit absorbed. At all times, it was unclear which jhana it was. I stayed for quite a bit in a state where the factors present were calm and a strong sense of effort, without rapture or bliss. Then another while in a state with a weak sense of effort, bliss, calm, tactile sensations very weak in general but also in particular around the hands and knees, hearing more distant, slowly changing visuals of white clouds covering most of the black background, no rapture.
Immediately after the sit, I felt it pretty difficult to talk with my flatmate, like I was trying to build the sentences (mother tongue this time) but the brain was still waking up. Feelings of bliss and relaxation post-sit reminisced my first times flirting with absorption around May time, in a way I hadn't felt again since then.

Still no idea what the "event" was. But whatever the territory I'm treading is called, it's new and exciting stuff.

RE: Manipulating my experience on retreat
12/19/12 10:58 PM as a reply to Nick P.
For the record: definitely not Path. The event probably was a transition into high Equanimity. Pre-path cycling is so damn real though. Have been backsliding for the past few days due to lack of practice.