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Seeking Greater Clarity on What’s Being Experienced

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Seeking Greater Clarity on What’s Being Experienced
jhana access concentration insight dark night fear non-self
Answer
11/4/13 7:57 PM
This is first post so apologies for the length – I’ve sort of been holding all of this stuff inside for quite a while.

A Little Background

I have been practicing for five years, occasionally intensely (2-3 hours of meditation a day), typically less intensely (1 ½ - 2 hours a day), and occasionally I have “fallen off the horsey” completely. Over that five years I have logged about 70 days or retreat experience, mostly at Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Massachusetts, with the longest retreat being two weeks and most being seven to nine days.

Most recently, I have been practicing in the more “typical” way described above and have been more diligent and dedicated. Practice is “up and down” as always, but I am increasingly able to simply stay with what’s going on, noticing pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, often seeing “the story” as it arises without running with it, or running with it only briefly. On occasion, of course, I’m still “dazed and confused”…

About a year ago while on retreat at IMS I had what I will call “an opening” and over the past year have experienced a lot of struggle around it.

Description of the Opening and What I Think (?) Might Have Been Going On

I was doing walking meditation and became hyper aware of becoming very concentrated. At this point there was awareness of only the motions of the walking. When I came to a stop at the end of the walking room I was sort of “overtaken” by a soft but intense white light, sort of like being covered in a thread-bare sheet on a very bright summer’s day,. There was sort of a “basking in the glow” of the light, and then the awareness of two things in very short order: 1) “the body” had completely disappeared, and 2) the hindrances were completely held in abeyance. (Access Concentration?) This was followed by a really intense experience of piti – like a rumbling or rolling sensation and a big fat “shit eating grin” on my face. Over time, all of this actually came to be experienced as “unpleasant” (my face felt like it was going to crack from the uncontrollable grinning). There was a small amount of aversion that arose, but it was not turned into a story. Instead, I just sort of became aware intuitively that I could just release it if I wanted to. (First Jhana?) The “release” flowed into a time of incredible but really gentle happiness and peacefulness – the kind that you dream about all of your life and then never want it to leave. (Second Jhana?). All of this lasted for perhaps one-half hour, and when I “emerged” I noticed that, though the body had returned as well as awareness of “self”, I remained in a state of incredible peace, calm, and clarity and the hindrances were still not present. I became profoundly aware that I seemed incapable of making judgments about others – something that normally do with far too much regularity. I sort of floated back upstairs to the meditation hall. As I looked around the room there was this sense of the beauty of the sea of people around me, and not so much awareness of any “individuals” but of seeing them all as more like parts of one organism – there was great clarity around the idea of interconnectivity. During the sitting an insight arose: “If it can disappear it can’t be real”. It was clear that this was in reference to numerous things - the body, the hindrances, the sense of self. The sitting was also filled with strong clarity and awareness of the arising and passing of things – having thoughts and feelings – but none of them “sticking” – sort of the epitome that whole “clouds floating, unfettered, through an open blue sky” metaphor that is so often referenced. I spoke with a teacher about this who really down played the more “sensational” part of the experience, and acknowledged the insight but with very little direction. Perhaps that’s “OK”, not sure.

Since the Opening

For about a month, life took on a very different hue. While “I” had returned, I had this tenderness and gentleness toward everyone and everything that did not previously exist. People in my life commented on it with comments like “something is really different about you – what’s going on”, or, you’re not your usual cynical, sarcastic self, what the hell’s up with you?”
Then, I went back to IMS for a nine-day retreat. The first day and night were fine, the usual settling in period. Beginning on the second night, I started to have major issues with sleeping. I would start to fall off to sleep but would then enter into this sort of jagged, brittle feeling state that felt like it was between sleeping and wakefulness with a REALLY agitated sense of fear, dread, terror – but absolutely no idea what it was all about. This continued to three nights. I talked with a teacher who talked about trying to relax around it and also focusing on the feelings that were arising and letting go of “trying to figure out what it was all about” – to no avail. I became so fearful that I left the retreat early. I tried to go on retreat again a few months later with the same end result. Oddly, this nebulous feeling of fear- dread-terror only happens on retreat – it disappears as soon as I remove myself from the retreat environment.

After this, I started to become very doubtful of myself, the path, Buddhism, meditation - really everything. I went through a period of re-exploring Christianity from a more mystical, non-dual vantage point, sort of (perhaps) mistaking my experience at IMS with an experience of “God”. After spinning around all of this for a couple of months and finding that it didn’t really resonate with me, I “came to” and started practicing again. I fairly quickly came to the awareness of the fact that I was just running as fast as possible away from this unknown fear.

I am headed off to retreat again at the end of the year, knowing that I need to face this head on since abandoning practice isn’t really an option.

I’m interested in both comments on the above experiences, guidance from those who have gone before me, and any thoughts/suggestions about how to work all of this now and/or if it arises again on retreat in December.

Thank you to anyone who was patient enough to read through all of this…

RE: Seeking Greater Clarity on What’s Being Experienced
Answer
11/4/13 9:45 PM as a reply to Bob Hunter.
Bob Hunter:
Beginning on the second night, I started to have major issues with sleeping. I would start to fall off to sleep but would then enter into this sort of jagged, brittle feeling state that felt like it was between sleeping and wakefulness with a REALLY agitated sense of fear, dread, terror – but absolutely no idea what it was all about. This continued to three nights. I talked with a teacher who talked about trying to relax around it and also focusing on the feelings that were arising and letting go of “trying to figure out what it was all about” – to no avail. I became so fearful that I left the retreat early. I tried to go on retreat again a few months later with the same end result. Oddly, this nebulous feeling of fear- dread-terror only happens on retreat – it disappears as soon as I remove myself from the retreat environment.

Have you read Daniel Ingram(the owner of this site)'s book MCTB?
http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/dharma-wiki/-/wiki/Main/MCTB?p_r_p_185834411_title=MCTB

The above seems like the 6th nana. What was the experience like when you had sleep troubles? What was the sensate experience like before the fear came on? What and how were the predominant sensations or perceptions arising and/or passing? Was it pleasant, unpleasant etc? Were phenomena arising and passing fast or slow, or were some aspects of experience hard to see, or some aspect of experience more obvious? Read about the 5th nana in MCTB, and see if you relate to it.

Read the parts of the progress of insight and see if any of it relates to your experience. It sounds like you might be traversing some of the nanas, but more details about your practice are needed. What does a typical 1 x hour sit look like for you phenomenologically (without terming this and that experience as this and that concept- bare phenomena)?

Nick

RE: Seeking Greater Clarity on What’s Being Experienced
Answer
11/5/13 2:44 PM as a reply to Bob Hunter.
I had two or three periods in the last few years when such an intense fear came up.

What I did then was gently exploring the sensations of fear. I would sit with it for a while, really paying attention to the fear, and when it became too much I would stop and do something else. Something physical like exercise, or eating, or having someone you trust hold your hand helps it go away.

As I did this more and more, I eventually became more used to the sensations of fear, and now I can more-or-less "dive into it", because I have approached it enough times to know (at a sufficiently intuitive level) that the threat isn't real. Fear became less believable, and when I have such fear coming up nowadays (which is very rare) I know "oh, there it is", and I don't worry too much.

First few times it happened I thought I was going to die then and there emoticon