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Help please, I'm stuck, no idea where I am and what to do

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Hi everyone, this is my first post and I'm hoping you can help me clear up some of the confusion I have regarding my progress and current situation. As well as what I need to do next as I feel pretty stuck. I have recently started training in concentration and insight after reading the MCTB. Before that I have been strongly interested in philosophy and spirituality for around 3 years. Although i've had no formal and consistent meditation practice until about 10 days ago I feel that I have already realised some of the more basic insights such as mind and body. Either through paying attention and having a very questioning/critical approach to life or maybe as a response to life circumstances or just chance. Either way about 10 days ago I began training in concentration in order to attain at least some basic concentration states which I understand are necessary for insight practice. I trained by focusing on the physical sensations of the breath at the nose (cold air going in/warm air going out) counting the out breaths from 0-10 and then again from the start in order to gain access concentration. At first this felt really irritating as I had no idea what I was doing and I felt that no progress was happening(I later realised that I did reach access concentration, however I did not notice it as I was expecting something very extraordinary instead of just the calm focus and relative protection from disturbances which I now associate with access concentration. Is this correct?).
After about 2 days of persistent practice focusing solely on concentration I felt what I think was the first samatha jhana. To get there I first attained access concentration and then shifted away from it to the feeling of concentration itself, I soon felt a lot of raptures around my body and tried to focus on them, they soon increased in both speed and intensity. My focus then shifted to my eyelids which were kinda bouncing in rhythm with each other also going faster and faster until their speed along with a strong buzzing sound in my head just kinda fused and exploded and I felt as if I entered a new state of consciousness which i've never experienced.
However due to this experience being so new to me I stopped straight away as I got too excitedemoticon. Something was finally happening. That night as I laid in bed I cultivated that state many times. From then on it felt easy as I already knew the process. I should mention that each time I enter a samatha jhana it feels like my eyelids are being forced shut and the energy in my head is increasing. I'm a bit critical about the next bit as it seems to be too fast of a progression. But after getting to the first and second jhana I experienced something akin to what is described in MCTB as the 3rd samatha jhana. Everything went as before I simply focused on the raptures until I was pulled into the next stage. Although this time I could clearly see that the focus was not in centre but in the periphery. Actually entering that state looked like someone had wiped a dirty window in a circular motion leaving the middle dirty.
This must have been a soft jhana as a few days later I entered something similar except I felt like I was the blurry bit and everything around me including behind me felt clear. Afterwards i also felt aware of things around me when away from the cushion. While still in bed that night, I fell asleep and my dreams were very intense and tiring it was like constant explosions of white light and huge energy which carried on to the next night also However not as intense as before. I now think this might have been A&P although its all very confusing and the stages seem to overlap and do not seem to conform to the maps. The next day or two i kept cultivating the concentration states and I experienced some very intense concentration while going about my daily things.
All was going well and I felt like I could enter up to the 3rd jhana fairly easily and quickly usually around 10-15min. I felt generally very motivated about my life and even things like my diet,habits and personality improved naturally. In the next day or two I started focusing heavily on insight training as I did not touch upon it at all by that point. I used noting practice. However I tend to find it easier to just deal with any sensations which arise as opposed to focusing on the breath so thats what I did. Again progress seemed fast and realising knowledge of mind and body and cause and effect seemed pretty obvious and not like much of a big deal. Again I did not even realise at first that I had achieved them until I read detailed descriptions of them in MCTB. I mention this because i'm a bit cautious about these things as I've got a feeling i could just be telling myself that i have gained those insight (a kinda placebo effect). Especially as i know what to expect after reading Daniel's maps.
I then preceded to focusing on the no self aspect of things by stepping outside of the sensations and asking my self stuff like who is "me" or who is it that is having the experience e.g. when experiencing pain. I also started to become aware of a feeling of how tiring it is to constantly maintain the illusion of being separate and how unnecessary it seems. Shortly after i started experiencing vibrations around my body which over time have become more and more intense and encompassed the whole of my body. I could again feel immense excitement and energy and things like my heart beating very fast and strong and the whole experience was kinda scary, this happened about 2-3 times in the past 2 days and at one time I felt I could see the "frames in reality" as if on a film tape as well as everything becoming a bit distorted and frightening.
Since then things have been getting more and more "chilled out". Although I have this irritating feeling that I know the illusion of solidity is there but I'm unable to do anything about it. Throughout the day I can see things slightly vibrating/flashing and at other times things moving/distorting in a very fluid way. Whenever i sit down to meditate I don't even know where to start, my concentration is gone and even the ability to perceive the 3 characteristics seems to be getting worse and worse. Emotionally I feel very neutral and my experience of life seems to be very smooth for the first time in a while. However its like I'm constantly being dropped hints about things not quite working and reality feels a bit weird.
I have tried doing kasina practice with a candle flame or disks and have been very unsuccessful at both, with my eyes constantly lagging or flickering off to the side and objects flickering and disappearing very quickly. I also tried going back to basic samatha practice but I simply get frustrated and am unable to achieve even the first jhana. Things are similar with my insight training which I now find impossible.I realise this sounds a bit like some sort of a dark night phase however all the stages of practice so far have felt pretty vague and I don't know if I'm not just reading too much into it. I do apologise for writing such an essay however my training has been very individual and i feel like the risk of getting things wrong or just plain delusion is high.
My issue then are:
Is my practice generally correct?
Where the hell am I in regards to maps? I have tried to work this out myself and feel like I could either be in 3C, somewhere around A&P or some early stages of the dark night.
Are the states I'm describing genuine or have I talked myself into it?
Is the progress I'm describing too fast to happen in one week? Since starting about 10 days ago everything has been a roller coaster and its like I'm in a totally different stage of being/feeling everyday.
Where do I go from here? As at the moment I feel extremely lost and frustrated.

Some more general questions (some might seem stupid, I apologise):
Every time I sit down to practice insight do I have to go through all the stages from the start before reaching my current limit? It sometimes feels like as soon as I close my eyes I feel/see very fast vibrations and feel like I am already experiencing something like the 3C or higher. Furthermore when practicing insight I tend to just start taking things apart without really even trying to gain access concentration. This is also a bit confusing to me - when trying to do insight practice do I start as I would with concentration practice i.e solidifying the breath until I get to access concentration or first jhana or try to perceive the 3C of the breath or any sensations right from the start?

Thanks for the help

Kuba

RE: Help please, I'm stuck, no idea where I am and what to do
Answer
1/23/13 5:09 PM as a reply to Kuba Szlas.
Hi Kuba,

Welcome to the DhO! I'll take a stab at your questions, since nobody has yet.

I think it's entirely possible you got those jhanas, and A+P, and dark night, even with just a few days of intensive practice. But it's probably impossible to know from the information here. I don't know if you're scripting or not, but it's a good possibility to be aware of. The thing that stands out from your post the most to me is your excitement (typical of A+P - no promises), which is okay. It's fun and can motivate you to practice. At this point though that excitement should be an object of investigation lest it become a diversion or obstacle. Also, I can't blame you for wanting to know where you are, but that can get you hung up on self-deluding speculation. You've clearly done some good work to begin seeing the truth about your moment to moment experience - but watch out for these booby traps! In other words, the best thing for now might be to let go of speculating, with the assurance that everything will become clear soon enough.

Assuming your goal is stream entry, the general counsel based on MCTB and Mahasi etc, is to leave jhana practice alone for now, and note away. If you keep posting with just barebones phenomenological detail of exactly what you noted throughout your sits, the patterns will be clear very soon.

Every time I sit down to practice insight do I have to go through all the stages from the start before reaching my current limit?


Yeah, this confused me too for a while. Yes, you do go through each stage in succession in each sit. You might zip through some stages though, and linger in others, which can further confuse the diagnosis. Just remember your task is to regard all phenomena equally, dispassionately, and without comment or modification.

Where do I go from here? As at the moment I feel extremely lost and frustrated.


From the point of view of practice, those feelings of frustration and confusion are no different than any others. Note them. See the 3 characteristics. Know that they are typical of the path. This is when "faith" becomes a factor for enlightenment. Remember that this practice works, and ultimately is to liberate you from just these kinds of difficulties. Keep practicing.

From the point of view of life in general, if you are in the dark night stages (anyway, the way you're going they're not far off ;)) remember the warnings about bleedthrough. Resolve to hold off any major life decisions, or even medium decisions if you can. Take care of your body. Also, the intensely goal-oriented approach that gets you to the DN, can back-fire once you're there. A little moderation can help a lot here.

Congratulations on a great start. You've got momentum!

RE: Help please, I'm stuck, no idea where I am and what to do
Answer
1/24/13 1:09 PM as a reply to Some Guy.
Thanks a lot for the advice. Since your reply I have been trying to just focus on the 3 characteristics of all phenomena when noting instead of trying to figure out what they mean in regards to my progress. Using the negative feelings as objects for practice has made my meditation possible again. However it's still considerably harder than it was not so long ago and progress seems slow.
My noting practice is pretty mundane right now and I seem to notice the same old sensations. Most new insights seem to randomly happen to me throughout the night. For example last night I woke up and felt an overload of different sensations (both physical and mental) this felt very unpleasant almost sickening. It felt a little bit like my body and mind were being taken apart. I understand that the way to move on is to simply keep noting and investigating. My initial interest with maps was probably to ensure that I am indeed doing something and not wasting my time deluding myself into "insights".