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Reconsidering Zen at my Paradox Roadblock in EQ

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So I've been doing vipassana for awhile, seemingly going up and down the nanas, getting some jhanas, going through periods of higher and lower motivation, points of higher and lower energy, points of more dedicated practice to points of laxity, points of confidence to points of confusion and stuck-ness, points of understanding and clarity, to points of uncertainty and vagueness.

First breakthrough- Realizing that I had to watch and accept the negative bodily sensations. I then crossed the A&P.

Second breakthrough- Realizing the pitfalls of the A&P (related to the corruptions of insight), releasing desire for energetic stuff, releasing the tendency to grasp at the A&P stuff. This got me more able to tune into the 3rd vipassana jhana as it naturally arose after the A&P, rather than just feeling like I had dropped off and lost it.

Third breakthrough- Learning to surrender to overwhelming negativity in many forms during the DN. This got me tasting equanimity, but this is still an ongoing battle to some extent. As I learned on retreat recently, after ping-ponging back and forth between re-observation and EQ, there are layers and layers and layers of surrender that have to occur. However, I started landing more consistently in EQ in my sits, and having little trouble going through the DN to get there, and having less of a problem with going back and forth between re-observation and equanimity.

I realized that I was getting stuck in EQ, by holding onto the peace that resulted, which would then fling me back into re-observation with a vengeance. Then, I started to release attachment to the peace of EQ. Equanimity started seeming less profound and more like a drop off into a very wide, quiet, subconscious realm. When I would cycle back to re-observation, it wasn't a big deal and didn't have much psychological impact at all.

And here's the point where I feel stuck more than ever. After trying to release attachment to effort, equanimity, thoughts of maps and progress, high energy and low energy, etc..., I'm left feeling like I'm doing nothing at all, except watching and investigating. But it feels like a big roadblock. And yes, I've investigated the sense of roadblock. But at the end of the day, for better or for worse, I am aware of stream entry, and it's my goal, and I have the intention to get it. So after I try to see through intention, map-based thoughts, desire for enlightenment, investigation, what is there to do? It feels great and equanimous, but I've long since realized that this is useless in a way. Equanimity can fade so fast, and it's right next to re-observation. I feel like I had a motor (noting and noticing practice), but I feel like I've deconstructed the motor, that I've had to stop fueling the effort for getting somewhere, since it seems like I get to equanimity and then hit the end of the line.

I feel stuck in very paradoxical thinking now. I have to make effort and investigate to get enlightened, but at the same time, the investment in those things is an obvious impediment to seeing things clearly in some way. I have to see the nature of things, but even in equanimity, there's this sense that something is just straight-up wrong (maybe this is seeing into dukkha). I try to investigate, but it feels like the investigation itself is related to the wrong-ness, that the problem is at a level deeper than the investigation itself. So how can investigation reveal and fix the problem, when the problem is so skin deep that the investigation itself feels corrupted? I keep going and I keep trying to cultivate equanimity to the efforts related to practice and the stress related to knowing that there is indeed a goal to achieve. Maybe it's just continuing to do this that will crack it.

But then, enter Zen. I'm still critical of the notion that "you are already enlightened", that practice is non-practice, that there is nothing to attain. After reading enough stories of people getting progressive paths (even in some Zen traditions), it's clear that there is a river to cross, so to speak. But at this odd, paradoxical point in my practice, some of the Zen sayings are actually seeming very appealing, addressing a lot of my fundamental concerns about my practice. I'm not referring to the notion that practice is futile, that we should just live and be happy that we're already enlightened. I'm more referring to the notions that all is Buddha-nature, that mind needs to look back at itself to see it's true nature, that enlightenment takes some kind of non-effort, that the thing we're trying to do takes abandonment of all investment, and that you just have to step out of the way to let the natural mind shine through. I know little to nothing about actual Zen practice, but I feel like a lot of the Zen stuff I've heard is directly addressing these paradoxes/roadblocks I'm running into.

I'm frustrated with the sense that I can't do anything about this barrier in EQ. Noting seems to lose traction, and investigation feels like exactly the wrong thing, like the suffering is embedded in the investigation itself, therefore the investigation has to stop or change in some way. I'm entirely glad to have used the techniques I did to get to this point, as it is obviously progress and seemingly close to the source of the problem, but I really do get the "chasing my tail" feeling. When I move closer to it, it moves away, but when I stop, it doesn't seem like things synch up, and there's still a blaring dissonance. In 3rd vipassana jhana, my mantra was something like, "no going back (giving up), have to just come to acceptance and calmly go forward". Now, it feels more like there is no way out, no tangible endpoint, like every step I take forward is making the thing I'm looking for one step farther away.

I normally dislike writing (or reading) things that seem lost in paradoxical thought, because I normally think that just practicing is the solution. But after getting stuck in EQ again and again, I can't help but feel like practice is paradoxically flawed somehow. I'm also at odds with Daniel Ingram's claim that once someone hits EQ, they are so close and that continued practice is all it takes. I'm finding that practice is radically different in EQ, and that my previous methods of just noting the shit out of things, cultivating EQ, and removing investment in any of the stuff that comes up is lacking somehow. It was a great and massively effective approach all the way up to EQ, but now it seems like something must be tweaked. I'm interested in refining my practice, since I do know that once the practice is right, the fruit will follow, as demonstrated by many people here and anecdotes elsewhere.

One step forward seems like one step back, and standing still feels like missing the point of investigation. I've uncovered a few stuck in EQ threads but it seems like people only understand what was wrong after they get stream entry. How do I crack this thing??? I promise, I am practicing and not just philosophizing. I'm just stuck at EQ.

RE: Reconsidering Zen at my Paradox Roadblock in EQ
Answer
8/19/13 2:18 PM as a reply to Mind over easy.
Hi M.O.E.

I totally agree with you about zen; in my own words I think it does speak well to these kinds of "practice" paradoxes.

My thought are
a) wow, useful, clear post.
b) just sit.
c) I'm sure that sucks as a contribution.
d) it was when I sat a few months after giving up, and just sat, something had changed.

To use tangled yarn analogy, the ball definitely got tighter and messier, before I just approached sitting one day with nothing. More like flat exasperation, more out of habit. So when zen has to call sitting something (unavoidable to reify doing nothing into something) it's called shikantaza. Just sitting. And I think a person does this when they are fed up, but also calm and they just sit one morning, because why not. It's like sitting at a bus station in an abandoned town. Analogies...

Good luck. I personally feel like this is a perfect example of correct tension arising. The useful aspect of noting and vipassana before this moment is that the mind should have fatigued itself of looking for other escapes, ideologies -- and that it will have a few moments of stilling itself without moodiness. Anyway, with the tension this high it's like the mind, having nothing else to do, with start to work the tight ball of yarn in a loose completely patient way, so equanimous it's nearly subconscious. Anyway, sounds right on to me, what you're saying now.

RE: Reconsidering Zen at my Paradox Roadblock in EQ
Answer
8/19/13 4:14 PM as a reply to Mind over easy.
I get the same problem and I'm still working on it. There get a point in EQ where the dukkha is too soft to really kick us in the butt, we then to get lost in some labyrinth of the mind, we try to come back again and again. I suppose developping strong concentration combined with strong resolve on a retreat, with a mix of sitting and walking meditation, would eventually do the trick. But when we only get there for a few hours every other day, that we need to deal with real life while working on this, it seems that another approach is needed. I think there is two ways to look at it. There is techniques to go after the dukkha and there is techniques to make dukkha more predominent or bubble up to the surface. Vipassana and concentration is all about going after the dukkha. Giving up, dwelling in the Buddha mind, self-inquiry, mantras (like humming sound) are more about the bubbles.

This stage is quite bittersweet. We can turn our mind toward the bitter or toward the sweet. We can let our mind oscillate more naturally between the two. Recently, I moved to simply doing a strong humming sound that make all my body vibrate when I get in this part of equanimity. It helps to break tiny tensions all over the body. It make me challenge my resolve and patience in a gentle way, which ultimately highlight the bitterness of the non-enlightened state without injecting unnecessary tention from too much effort. The lower back is also an important spot in this stage as the last bastion of tension remain there. Also, it helps avoid getting lost is some fantasies. I believe that not only insight is needed to move up the ladder, that is, seeing clearly something in the center of attention, but also complete relaxation to allow the energy flow. I hope someone with more experience will chime in on that matter as I'm as puzzled as your are those days.

RE: Reconsidering Zen at my Paradox Roadblock in EQ
Answer
8/19/13 4:26 PM as a reply to Simon T..
There get a point in EQ where the dukkha is too soft to really kick us in the butt, we then to get lost in some labyrinth of the mind, we try to come back again and again. I suppose developping strong concentration combined with strong resolve on a retreat,
(...)
This stage is quite bittersweet.
I like how this is put. I also like that plan, the tension drives up one's resolve (hopefully after some soft period, so there's not too much strain/pressure).

RE: Reconsidering Zen at my Paradox Roadblock in EQ
Answer
8/19/13 10:34 PM as a reply to Mind over easy.
Mind over easy:
I'm frustrated with the sense that I can't do anything about this barrier in EQ. Noting seems to lose traction, and investigation feels like exactly the wrong thing, like the suffering is embedded in the investigation itself, therefore the investigation has to stop or change in some way. I'm entirely glad to have used the techniques I did to get to this point, as it is obviously progress and seemingly close to the source of the problem, but I really do get the "chasing my tail" feeling. When I move closer to it, it moves away, but when I stop, it doesn't seem like things synch up, and there's still a blaring dissonance. In 3rd vipassana jhana, my mantra was something like, "no going back (giving up), have to just come to acceptance and calmly go forward". Now, it feels more like there is no way out, no tangible endpoint, like every step I take forward is making the thing I'm looking for one step farther away.


I don't know if you read any of my posts related to some bits and scraps from Dan but you should do Shikantaza (or noting - if done subtly) but in doing this (or not doing) you just tune into what is hitting your consciousness already including letting your attention go where it wants to go and seeing intentions (including the intention to meditate) and paying attention or interest arise and passaway. By not blocking experience you won't be repressing and by not forcibly stopping rumination or actions the rumination or actions will quiet on their own. When you're "lost in thoughts" you let them come back to presence on their own. Don't need to stop it. I've also read from other posts where people lamented how overly complex they were and just leaving the brain to let go on it's own got what they needed for stream entry. The only investigation is what is hitting consciousness (the knowing part of your mind that knows there is thinking seeing touching etc). Thoughts try to sense other senses when really thoughts just hit consciousness.

Hopefully that's helpful.

RE: Reconsidering Zen at my Paradox Roadblock in EQ
Answer
8/20/13 12:05 PM as a reply to Mind over easy.
I'm in the same boat as you as far as progress is concerned.

I recently realized that by thinking the way you're thinking right now, I was creating dissatisfaction in the present moment and wandering away from it into a fantasy of a probable future where I will be better off.

The thing is, at this junction, we need to accept everything that IS with a complete YES without imagining things to be any different. I am starting to see micro sub reactions that together create one subconscious reaction, and all of these micro reactions are nothing but unwholesome states of mind such as jealousy, greed, anger, ill will, lust, etc. Maybe Zen is appealing to you right now because this is what Zen asks you to do (Just be/Acceptance).

In my opinion, you're not "blocked" in EQ. You simply have to fully accept this state of being and master being in this state before you move ahead. This is similar to how A&P took a tremendous amount of concentration, but this takes subtle acceptance.

So if you still want to *push* through the "roadblock", and if you have that much will, try doing strong determination sittings instead of regular sittings. If you sit for 2-3 hours without movements instead of the regular 1 hour, I guarantee you'll develop in equanimity rapidly. If you wanna go Zen, by all means do so but to me there's not much difference.

RE: Reconsidering Zen at my Paradox Roadblock in EQ
Answer
8/20/13 4:48 PM as a reply to Mind over easy.
Hi MOE, I've been meaning to get this down for people for awhile, so please excuse the info-dump. Tbh, when I was going through this, I never had the nerve to disclose my progress on the DhO for fear of creating a desire to fulfill expectation (however imaginary) on some level. It baffles me that people could keep online practice journals of this stuff!

FWIW, I got SE in daily life with only 3 hours practice a day at most. Some general points that I think benefited me:
  • Realizing that the 3C's apply just as fully post-SE as pre-. As in, enlightenment-with-remainder is never going to satisfy. It's best to see it in terms of how it can better help you to help others. In other words: being okay with the idea of spending the rest of your life striving in vain for this.
  • A near-suicidal, un-thinking, utterly defeated desperation, to the point where, in the end, I never even used any specific, widely-accepted technique - not out of arrogance that I didn't need one, but the exact opposite - the kind of careless desperation you might see in an alcoholic asking random passers-by for spare change ...except it felt more like throwing down my sword and shield and utterly surrendering my being to the burning, blinding white of God. It got to the point where I would try anything that might just work - like shooting imaginary arrows through my eyes in order to somehow hit my 'self'. Just attacking it directly with everything I had, repeatedly forcing the self to re-locate in my head.
  • Not obsessing over having the ideal 11th nana "experience" - like noticing subtle vibrations wherever I looked (though admittedly they were present for the most part, especially in the visual field), having the skandhas meld under super-charged concentration, being on a 2-month retreat in some beautiful Thai monastery, etc.
  • Having a certain degree of faith, along with the desperation, that gave me the confidence to know I was seeing the 3C's in everything without being able to perceive every single kalapa. IIRC, there was almost a simple-mindedness to it, so that after an hour of samatha and vipassana one night, I sort of concluded "OK, I get this now. I guess I'll try turning my awareness on itself then, seeing as that's supposed to be the lowest level of it." Then shortly after, I was lying in bed, maintaining a low-level bodily awareness (as Goenka advises doing at night, IIRC), starting to drift off, when the discontinuity occurred.
  • Well known among DhO-ers, but still worth keeping in mind: trying to see the 3C's as broadly and inclusively as possible, so that I was feeling the 3C's-ness of things I couldn't even articulate. In fact, I've just remembered that after that very last sit, the (relatively) boundary-less, non-dual, self-less perspective I had acquired through investigation persisted for possibly the first time - certainly to a much greater extent than any had before.
  • Seeing sensations that implied 'self' as not only not 'self', but not 'me' at all. An accumulation of these kinds of pithy realizations, leading to ever-greater confidence, understanding, and dispassion.

To sum-up: cessation generally non-occurs for people when they least expect it - on emerging from a daydream, drifting off to sleep, just sitting, etc. The question is, how do you think and understand your way into this state of mind? Clearly, there's a near-total absence of desire for SE, for further progress, or to not slip back into re-observation. Yet there's also sufficient understanding to show the illusion of 'self' the door and let it step through of its own accord. There's a confidence there that the work has been done, which is why too many failed attempts can compound into a major problem for people. It's just a semi-intellectual understanding that's required - enough to make you indifferent to it, just as John Nash eventually became indifferent to his imaginary friends (at least based on that film). In the end you've got to let the imaginary friend see that it's no longer wanted and exit stage left.