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Two awakenings: Two peak experiences of a Vedantist turned Buddhist

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Hi everyone,

I wanted to share some experiences I have had a few years ago, as much as ordinary language allows it. I'm a very new "convert" to the Buddha Dhamma, so the terminology that I use might be a bit different. Also my account might be a bit long, please bear with me. I'd be very very happy if you gave me your take on it. I am elated to have come across this website and to have found the opportunity to discuss my experiences openly.

Prologue

Around 4 years ago, I had an 8 month period of fairly intense meditation practice starting from the beginning of June 2010 lasting till the end of January 2011. During that time, I meditated for 6-7 hours daily. It was more or less a solitary retreat in a natural setting. I was following the Advaita Vedanta tradition at the time and my practice consisted of quietly watching the sense of "I am", sitting in any posture where I felt comfortable, with my eyes open.

Bliss 1

The practice intensified a few weeks into the retreat. I will not get into too much detail here. For a few weeks, I sat for hours absorbed in unimaginable bliss that got better each night. The boundaries of my body got weaker each day and I felt more and more spacious, expansive, not constrained to the physical body; in a non-dual state, I would say.

Terror 1

Then one afternoon, without any warning, I had a panic attack. And during the couple of weeks that followed I had recurring anxiety attacks and otherwise continuous intense suffering. I pushed through and reached a period of peace that again lasted for a week or two.

Awakening 1

Then, one night as I sat in absortion, I caught sight of an object in front of me, nothing of any particular significance. And suddenly a psychic lightning struck. I literally woke up. When I say "woke up" I mean it almost literally. It was just like waking up from a dream and immediately realizing that you have been dreaming and that ordinary reality is the "real" reality. So I woke up: I was not who I thought I was. I was not the "Seer." His identity had already weakened considerably due to sitting in absorption for extended periods of time. Neither was I the "Seen." Actually neither of them really existed. I was the "Seeing". Of course! What else could I be?! I had know this all my life! I had known it all along! The intensity of the initial experience subsided and I was left with a sense of "I" that felt more like a third person singular "it", rather than a first; "I am" became "be". That feeling lasted even when I was not meditating, albeit less strongly.

Intermezzo

After that experience, I entered a slightly calmer period, when I continued to sit in bliss for hours. This period was marked by a series of interesting blissful experiences, but no peak events. What was becoming more and more noticeable was an increasing sense of longing; it was making me push forward with ever more effort. This period lasted for a couple of months. Then I entered another period with even less intense psychic activity, but an even stronger sense of longing.

Bliss and Terror 2

The final leg of the 8 month period started sometime in December. My practice intensified again and gradually I entered another phase of fear and anxiety. This time the experiences were not so rough though. After I had come out of that phase, it felt like I was pushing for the last stretch of the journey; it felt like "something" could happen at any moment. And it did.

Awakening 2

One morning, again as I was in blissful absorption, lightning struck a second time. It brought me out of my absorption back into everyday reality. And again I literally woke up. This time the realization was very different: The realness of the physical environment I was in dissociated itself in an instant from the environment itself and stood by itself; it left everything else as unreal. The realness of everyday reality was all that truly was; all else was mere images. My sense of being anything, an "I" an "it" or whatever disappeared completely as well. Only Reality existed. "I knew" somehow that this was the Unborn, Undying, Ever-Existing Absolute Reality; it was the Real. We see it right there in front of us all the time, yet it is hidden in everyday reality at the same time. It was actually right in the middle of my very sense of being; it was my Real Self. (Here's more fodder for the "no self vs. the real self" debate.) And again there was the same realization as before: Of course! What else could I be?! I had know this all my life! I had known it all along! I also realized that even the blissful non-dual state I sat in was not perfectly non-dual. Even all the unimaginably blissful states I had sat in were suffering compared to the bliss that I now felt. A whole world, a whole cosmos was lifted off my shoulders. I was laughing and crying at the same time.

Epilogue

This experince lasted for about an hour and faded away, leaving me with a feeling of deep grief for having lost my "beloved." Since that day I have been trying to figure out what happened to me and where I am on the path. My late teacher told me I was self-realized. How nice... But self-realized people are supposed to be stabilized in the Real; I definitely wasn't. And I still suffered... In any case, there was the sense that I hadn't completed my journey. So I went on investigating and found out that Buddhism expounds the concept of "stages of enlightenment." This made much more sense than the all-or-nothing road map of Advaita and I am now a student of the Buddha Dhamma.  I have started doing anapanasati around two months ago. My absorption has started getting deeper and the bliss I feel on the cushion has greatly increase in the past 3-4 weeks or so. And I have gone into another phase of intense anxiety.

So what I would like to ask you is at least the following: What were those peak experiences? Where am I on the road map? What should I do now? What should I expect next, if anything? How do I deal with this last bout of intense anxiety in my work life.

Best,

Cem

RE: Two awakenings: Two peak experiences of a Vedantist turned Buddhist
Answer
8/27/14 4:58 PM as a reply to Cem Keskin.
Nice sharing. Your experience is the "I AM". I think these articles should be especially relevant for you:

http://awakeningtoreality.blogspot.com/2007/03/thusnesss-six-stages-of-experience.html
http://awakeningtoreality.blogspot.com.au/2014/07/insight-diagnosis-simplified.html
http://awakeningtoreality.blogspot.com.au/2007/03/mistaken-reality-of-amness.html
http://awakeningtoreality.blogspot.com.au/2011/10/zen-exploration-of-bahiya-sutta.html
http://awakeningtoreality.blogspot.com.au/2013/09/joel-agee-appearances-are-self.html
https://app.box.com/s/7u47emus4osjxzpnqs03

RE: Two awakenings: Two peak experiences of a Vedantist turned Buddhist
Answer
8/29/14 8:46 AM as a reply to An Eternal Now.
Thanks so much an eternal now emoticon a wealth of good info on those pages!!

RE: Two awakenings: Two peak experiences of a Vedantist turned Buddhist
Answer
8/29/14 10:03 AM as a reply to Cem Keskin.
Hey Cem,

You speak of experiencing bliss, then terror, then breaking through to a more peaceful state. This is a pretty standard pattern of progress in Buddhism. On the Theravadin maps, the bliss is called the Arising and Passing Away, the anxiety is the Dark Night, and the peace is Equanimity. Once passing through these stages, one reaches a permanent shift in consciousness called Stream-Entry. Reality stops cold and it is like a blip, or a frame of experience being edited out. After stream-entry, one constantly cycles through these stages and experiences the "blip."

It sounds like you may have attained some of the Buddhist levels of awakening, of which there are four. But it's hard to say for sure since you are coming from another tradition. Have you read Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha? It's available for free here. It tells you everything you need to know, and most of us on this site have read it.

Sounds like you are dealing with another Dark Night at the moment.

Eric

RE: Two awakenings: Two peak experiences of a Vedantist turned Buddhist
Answer
8/29/14 6:39 PM as a reply to Eric M W.
Hi Cem,

That all sounds amazing!  Cool that you took that retreat for yourself and made the best of it.  You asked five questions at the end - I'm not sure about the "what" and "where" questions, but I'll try to offer a bit of help on your "how" question:  "How do I deal with this last bout of intense anxiety in my work life?"

I suggest remembering that the mind both desperately, intensely, and wildly seeks what it thinks will bring it pleasure and it desperately, intensely, and wildly attempts to force away what it thinks is painful.  Worse, the more it tries to push away pain, the stronger the pain becomes; and, the more the mind seeks pleasure, the more it's not fully witnessing what's happening now, a striving that creates more pain. 

If you try to push the anxiety away, you may get caught in these loops.  My suggestion is to simply say, "Ok, there's anxiety. Now I'm anxious."  Don't fight the anxiety, don't try to push it away.  Let it be there.  This can loosen the anxiety and give you some space.  However, the more you "try" to loosen the anxiety, the less this method will work because it can put you back into the seeking/pushing away situation.  It's a hard practice the first few times, but becomes easierover time.

Another way of looking at it is, don't wait until the anxiety is gone to work; work in the middle of the anxiety saying something to yourself like, "ahha! Mr. Anxiety is back.  Alright then."

Hope this helps anyway.  Much peace, Dave.

RE: Two awakenings: Two peak experiences of a Vedantist turned Buddhist
Answer
8/30/14 6:49 AM as a reply to Eric M W.
Hi Eric,

Thanks for the useful info! 

I have indeed noticed "permanent shift in consciousness" after my peak experiences. Recently I have quickly browsed through the information I have found online about the stages of enlightenment. Although I still have to go into it in more depth, the qualities listed for a "sotapanna" and "sakadagami" sound quite familiar. I would not want to make any claims of attainment until I have received more feedback about my experience however.

After my second peak experience, I have gone through Arising and Passing Away and the subsequent Dark Night a few times. It feels like each time I climb up and then slide back down the slope. I had realized that there was pattern in my experience but it gives one quite a relief to find out that the pattern is common, possibly even "universal." My present bout with the Dark Night is fairly challenging, though nowhere near as tough as the first one that I had a few years ago. I took the precepts around two months ago from a Theravadin monk. During the small private ceremony, I felt a beautiful powerful energy engulfing me and almost making me tremble. You can call it shaktipat I guess. The anxiety started right after that and has been hitting me in waves since.

For years, I have been going through all of this more or less in isolation. I have to say it gives me great comfort now to discover that there is a community of fellow travelers who are going through similar experiences, particularly the Dark Night. On top of this, they are willing to talk about these experiences openly.

I have discovered Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha two weeks ago or so, and have just started reading it. I really appreciate Daniel's direct, frank and transparent approach. It definitely looks like a book that should be read again and again, and used as a reference work.

Cem

Hi David,

It was a truly amazing period for me! The experiences were simply transformative, as you can imagine. My initial reaction was "Oh my god, it's all true!! All they say is true!! All this talk about awakening was really not just some pipedream!! It is real and it is achievable!!" It lasted for weeks. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity. I am happy to have persevered and pushed through all the hurdles. (I do have to say however that I had the feeling that after a while the practice itself takes over to some degree and sucks you in as you show more and more effort.) I am looking for another opportunity to go on a long retreat like that.

I really appreciate your tips. You wrote
...the mind both desperately, intensely, and wildly seeks what it thinks will bring it pleasure and it desperately, intensely, and wildly attempts to force away what it  thinks is painful.  Worse, the more it tries to push away pain, the stronger the pain becomes...

I agree completely. During the first hour of an anxiety attack I desperately try to fight it away, flailing mentally. As I do so I get more and more hopeless. I just want to curl up and cry. Then I sum up all the courage and composure I can gather, leave home, go to work, and walk through the fire second by second, inch by inch that day. I try to hold on to my mindfulness as much as possible and gradually the fear becomes a background noise.

Another way of looking at it is, don't wait until the anxiety is gone to work; work in the middle of the anxiety saying something to yourself like, "ahha! Mr. Anxiety is back.  Alright then.

These days I have started doing what you seem to suggest: I go ahead and actively engage situations that give me higher anxiety, trying to meet it halfway. And I feel reempowered during the last few hours of the day.

Cheers,

Cem

RE: Two awakenings: Two peak experiences of a Vedantist turned Buddhist
Answer
10/12/14 5:47 AM as a reply to Cem Keskin.
Here are my responses to Clem's email to me and this to his post above:


Dear Cem,
Thanks for your email and interest in these things. It is true that this morning I had 539 emails in my inbox to sort out, but luckily much of it can be rapidly deleted. Still, it does take time, but I had a moment, so here is my quick reply.
Responses in text below:

On Oct 11, 2014, at 8:31 AM, Cem Keskin <cemi.rumi@gmail.com> wrote:
Dear Dan,
 
My name is Cem. I am a dharma practitioner from Turkey. I have just finished reading your MCTB; it was a great read. Actually, it was exactly the kind of book that I needed at this point in time. Thank you for the effort you put into it, and for your directness and transparency.
 
I am writing to you for the following reason:
 
I consider myself a fairly dedicated practitioner of meditation. For the past 20 years or so I have been following a spiritual path. I have failed to find reliable and useful advice in most people who claim to be spiritual teachers – much as you suggest in MTCB – so I have pursued my goal alone most of the time, trying to find guidance in books and experimenting a whole lot. After reading your book, however, I thought you are the right kind of person to ask for advice on technical matters related to meditation practice. And I wanted to share with you the highlights of the experiences I have had in the past four years or so. I was wondering if you could give me your take on them and also give me some tips about reasonable next steps. You can find my account below; it might be a bit long, I would be happy if you bore with me. I wanted to ask you the following questions on the basis of that account:

  • What were those peak experiences I have had?

“Blips” of enlightenment or other peak experiences

  • Where am I on the map?
The first essential thing about map theory is to realize that thoughts about maps and theory occur now, and it is very easy for them to mess up your practice, so extra vigilance about those sensations when they occur, such that you see them as sensate experiences now in space, as transient phenomena, is essential to have them not catch you in thought patterns that subtly divide your sense of the maps from the actual experience of your life right now. This requires constant dedication to do well.



Not even on the path? First path? Second path?

  • What would be the most reasonable thing to do now?

Seven months ago, I took an 18-month-long unpaid leave from my job in Turkey. Since then I have been to India for six months. Now I am planning to go first to Panditarama-Lumbini and then to MBMC;
That is an excellent plan. It is so much easier to sort this stuff out in person when you are actually seeing the person and hearing them talk and seeing how their practice goes than by email. Still, some guesses are possible, but realize they are only guesses. I haven't been there, but it gets high marks.
I could also do a solitary retreat instead. I have taken this leave in order to pursue my goal of full awakening, and by the end of this period, I want to have had at least one (more) awakening experience. What would be your suggestion?

  • What should I expect next?
Lots more transient sensations to known directly and clearly.



I understand the many constraints you are under and hope that you will have the opportunity to respond.
 
Looking forward to hearing from you,
 
Cem Keskin
 
 
PS. Over a month ago, I posted a version of the account below as a thread entitled “Two awakenings: Two peak experiences of a Vedantist turned Buddhist” on the Dharma Diagnostic Clinic (http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/5574474). I haven’t received that much feedback on it unfortunately.


Ah, ok, too bad. It might have gotten lost in the recent drama there that, I hope, is calming down now. Might bump the thread and see how it goes.

 

Prologue

 
Around 4 years ago, I had an 8 month period of fairly intense meditation practice, starting from the beginning of June 2010 lasting till the end of January 2011. During that time, I meditated for 6-7 hours daily. It was more or less a solitary retreat in a natural setting.
 
I was following the Advaita Vedanta tradition at the time. During the year running up to that retreat period, I had studied the teachings of Nisargadatta Maharaj and had had interviews with one of his disciples, the late Douwe Tiemersma.
I like Nisargadatta's book I Am That.
 
I had also started practicing the meditation technique promoted by Maharaj. The technique consisted of quietly watching the sense of “I am.” The instructions found in his published dialogues were unfortunately rather vague and Douwe did not elaborate on them much. So during the retreat, I started experimenting with the basic technique, sitting mostly in a reclined position, with my eyes open.


Seeing those sensations of "self" as just sensations is a good idea. Investigating that sense is useful.
 
I have recently read Anapanasati Sutta and, in retrospect, I think that the progression of at least the initial stages of my practice during the retreat – and perhaps even the later stages – closely matches the sutta’s progression. It seems that one spontaneously, naturally gravitates towards a universal path.
 
Bliss 1
 
The practice intensified a few weeks into the retreat. For a few weeks, I sat for hours absorbed in wonderful bliss that got better each night. The boundaries of my body got weaker each day and I felt more and more spacious, expansive, not constrained to the physical body; in a non-dual state, I would say. As I read more about the rupa jhanas both in your book and elsewhere, I now think that I traversed them one by one and reached the fourth jhana.
Could also have been the A&P, as that stage tends to come early and really impress people, and not many get up to true 4th without going through the hard stuff (Dark Night), but then it might be 4th also, can't easily tell without a lot more descriptors and probably not well without having actually been there to see what you were up to and how you were then.

 
As you suggest in MTCB, bliss is nice but it is unsatisfactory indeed. So, after a while, I started playing around with sensate reality, trying to look at my experience of it from different angles and observe it. I wasn’t using any particular technique while doing that, just watching it as intently as possible.


I have also spent a lot of time practicing in that sort of direct, unstructured, intuitive way and have enjoyed it and gotten a lot out of it. Trying to figure out how to balance a technique with that sort of approach if one of the great questions in meditation. I suspect that some fail because they can't get beyond technique to just see how things are, and others fail as a lack of technique failed to provide the skill sets and control that allowed that intuitive approach to be done well.
 
Terror 1
 
Then one afternoon, without any warning, I had a panic attack. And during the couple of weeks that followed I had recurring anxiety attacks and otherwise continuous intense suffering. I understand now, thanks to my latest readings, that this was a Dark Night episode. I pushed through and reached a period of peace that again lasted for a week or two.
Very typical. Get used to these episodes, as passing through them is totally normal and gives an opportunity to see those things clearly. Strong concentration and clear focus on the sense-field as it is helps. That peace phase is very likely Equanimity, as the early stages do tend to be extremely linear and predictable. 
 
Awakening 1
 
Then, one night as I sat in meditation, observing sensate reality, I caught sight of an object in front of me, nothing of any particular significance. And suddenly a psychic lightning struck. I woke up. When I say “woke up” I mean it almost literally. It was just like waking up from a dream and immediately realizing that you have been dreaming and that ordinary reality is the “real” reality. So I woke up: I was not who I thought I was. I was not the “Seer.” His identity had already weakened considerably due to sitting in meditation for extended periods of time. Neither was I the “Seen.” Actually neither of them really existed. I was the “Seeing.” Of course! What else could I be?! I had known this all my life! I had known it all along! The intensity of the initial experience subsided and I was left with a sense of “I” that felt more like a third person singular “it,” rather than a first; “I am” became “be.” That feeling lasted even when I was not meditating, albeit less strongly. You write about the weakening and the eventual loss of the “center point;” I tend to think this is the essence of my experience.


Alright, good insights regardless of map theory. Here's where it gets tricky. Numerous things can do something like that, but obviously stream entry is what you are thinking about, and it is normal to think that, and it may have even been it, but, at least in the way I trained, the trick then is to see if you can do the things that steam enterers can do, such as cycle naturally, attain to Fruitions, and the like. Many other traditions don't describe or emphasize those things, but they are good tests regardless, and sorting this out without them is not as easy as with them. I think that one of the worst things you can do to someone is to label something "stream entry" or "first path" or whatever that wasn't, and so I am very reluctant to do it, particularly at a distance and over email, as it can really mess people up.

All that said, those are very good, useful, key insights in general terms, and the real test is not what someone calls them, but how they help in your life and with your mind, and the degree to which you can integrate those into all of your waking experience, all they way through, to all sensations without exception.
 
Intermezzo
 
After that experience, I entered a slightly calmer period, when I continued to sit in bliss for hours. This period was marked by a series of interesting blissful experiences, but no peak events.
 
From the descriptions of formless realms in your book and elsewhere, I suspect that these later blissful states were the fifth and sixth jhanas. In the first phase of these states, the sky seem to open up taking me into a vast void. I had had the experience of vast space before, in what I now think is the fourth jhana, but this void was infinitely greater and had a very different quality. This was followed by a second phase where this void seemed to come alive and manifest awareness. I think now that my first awakening gave me access to the formless realms. I don’t think I have gone beyond the sixth jhana.
They very well may have been those, or, if there was still some form, their near cousins: the formless variants of the 4th jhana, what I would call 4.5 and 4.6, meaning Equanimity.Space and Equanimity.Consciousness, which are still very useful and insightful things to have perceived and to be able to perceive, as they help dissolve false boundaries and wake the field up, or, said another way, allow the field to recognize its own intrinsic nature more easily.
 
As before, there was something unsatisfactory about the arupa jhanas despite the immense bliss. I was after full awakening not just hours of bliss. So each night, after accessing these states and enjoying them for a while, I would start playing around with my experience of sensate reality, investigating aspects of it, such as attention moving around in the field of perception, depth, distance, space, awareness, etc.


Those are great things to investigate.
 
In the background of all this, what was becoming more and more noticeable was an increasing sense of longing; it was making me push forward with ever more effort. This period lasted for a couple of months. Then I entered another period with even less intense psychic activity, but an even stronger sense of longing.


So then, is that the end of Review and moving on to new territory? Entirely possible, again, hard to sort out over email.
 
Bliss and Terror 2
 
The final leg of the 8 month period started sometime in December. My practice intensified again and gradually I entered another phase of fear and anxiety, my second Dark Night episode. This time the experiences were not so rough though. After I had come out of that phase, it felt like I was pushing for the last stretch of the journey; it felt like “something” could happen at any moment. And it did.
Cycling back again through these things again and again and again is very typical. Again, get used to it, as the nature of life is cycles.
 
Awakening 2
 
One morning, again as I was in blissful absorption, lightning struck a second time. It brought me out of my absorption back into everyday reality. And again I literally woke up. This time the realization was very different in quality and magnitude: The realness of the physical environment I was in dissociated itself in an instant from the environment itself and stood by itself; it left everything else as unreal. The realness of everyday reality was all that truly was; all else was mere images. My sense of being anything, an “I” an “it” or whatever disappeared completely as well. Only Reality existed. “I knew” somehow that this was the Unborn, Undying, Ever-Existing Absolute Reality; it was the Real. We see it right there in front of us all the time, yet it is hidden in everyday reality at the same time.
Again, regardless of any map theory, those are key insights, as you already know.
It was actually right in the middle of my very sense of being; it was my Real Self. (Here's more fodder for the “no self vs. the real self” debate.) And again there was the same realization as before: Of course! What else could I be?! I had known this all my life! I had known it all along! I also realized that even the blissful non-dual states I sat in was not perfectly non-dual. Even all the unimaginably blissful states I had sat in were suffering compared to the bliss that I now felt. A whole world, a whole cosmos was lifted off my shoulders. I was laughing and crying at the same time.
Key insights, and then there are the layers of integration of those through layers of habit and layers of mind.
 
Epilogue
 
This experience lasted for about an hour and faded away, leaving me with a feeling of deep grief for having lost my “beloved.”
That feeling of deep heartbreak when it fades, which it often does, is also a kicker. How many times did I go through that? I lost count, but it hurt as badly every time.
Since that day I have been trying to figure out what happened to me and where I am on the path. My teacher told me I was self-realized. How nice... But self-realized people were supposed to be stabilized in the Real; I definitely wasn't.
How to stabilize in that? See the same insights for layer upon layer, moment upon moment, with a mix of remembering that wisdom and yet realizing that the remembering is occurring now and is it. It really takes practice and maturation and doing it again and again and again and again, thousands of times for most. 
And I still suffered... In any case, there was the almost certain sense that I hadn't completed my journey.
That feeling of incompletion is a great one to notice as it happens, one of the key ones to be sure to gently include in the insight, in the wisdom, as a vital experience now, as it points directly to the next thing to see clearly, accept, and understand.
So I entered a much calmer phase on the journey that lasted around three years; I went on meditating, reading, investigating, studying various other traditions. I went through shorter and less intense Dark Night episodes a few more times. It felt like each time I would climb up and then slide back down a slope. Then, I found out that Buddhism expounds the concept of “stages of enlightenment.” This made much more sense than the all-or-nothing road map of Advaita I had been given.
Regardless of dogmatic tradition-supremacy wars, practically, the progressive/step-wise maps match closely with many people's experience and help them normalize their journey and moderate unrealistic expectations, as well as allow them to embrace what is happening and put it into perspective. If you keep to the Simple Model in MCTB rather than the others, this should help.

 
The last 4 months
 
And around 4 months ago, I took the precepts from a Theravadin monk in Mumbai called Rahula Bodhi. During the small private ceremony, he also initiated me to anapanasati meditation (and then two months later to vipassana). I felt a beautiful powerful energy engulfing me and almost making me tremble. You can call it shaktipat I guess.
I would call it the A&P yet again. It is very common for it to recur again and again and again in various forms, sometimes quick and subtle, sometimes dramatic, sometimes long-lasting, but again, as you realize, it leads to the next dark stuff like thunder follows lightening.
That event kick-started another phase in my development. I immediately entered into another bout with the Dark Night, which was fairly challenging, though nowhere near as tough as the first one that I had a few years ago. At the same time, the bliss that I felt on the cushion increased again, almost back up to the level I had experienced during my solitary retreat.

It definitely helps to realize that we can do this again and again, to cross into the Dark Night again and again and to come out of it, and just knowing you can do that well and competently is a key part of things and helps people have faith to just stay with it when the hard stuff hits yet again.
 
That phase of anxiety ended around three weeks ago and I now have a much more neutral yet pleasant stance towards life. I don’t quite know if I have pushed through to equanimity or slipped back down.
Most likely hit Equanimity, as, as the cycles go on, they tend to be more prone to moving forward with more inevitability.
In any case, in my daily life, I am a few breaths away from what is probably the fourth jhana. Almost wherever I am, I can slip into it with great ease.
Nice while it lasts. Fourth jhana: definitely the platform that deep insights come from.
What I experience in that state is the undoing of the knot of perception, possibly the center point you mention. In that state, there is no self as such, just awareness.
When you say "awareness", what do you mean exactly? Something that is the same as phenomena, or something that is different from phenomena. It sounds like a semantic question, but is a good thing to examine, actually a key thing, actually the most fundamental question of all. If awareness is the same as phenomena, is there really awareness, or just phenomena pretending to be it? If this "awareness" is different from sensate phenomena, how can you possibly experience it?
I tend to think this is anatta. Although, when I go deeper into that state, I also paradoxically experience a sense of “I” arising and subsiding with each sensation within that very sensation, a sense of “I” arising and subsiding wherever a sensation arises and subsides in my field of perception.
Try this one on for size: the sensations that have the content "I", the feel of "I", were always as they are, always of the true nature of things also, even if that was not clearly perceived. Once that true nature of those sensate patterns and qualities is clearly perceived, they are known to just be more textures and colors and flavors of transient, ephemeral, intrinsically luminous space, as they always were. Helpful?

Also, related to that, I feel there is an experience of what I would call impermanence, which is different from the way you describe it: When I get to the fourth jhana, I sit in what I could call expansive awareness or the mind not limited body – I don’t know how to label it; it is a nothingness that knows.
Are you sure about this? What sensations do you know this "nothingness" by? If you know it by sensations, isn't it just more subtle aspects of the transient phenomenal field of sensations?
Then a “macro-”sensation may arise, like the noise of a car passing by say, or the twitching of a large muscle. It appears out of that knowing nothingness without warning; it stays there for a while, creating a disturbance in the field of nothingness, like a star creating a curvature in space-time; and then it disappears completely as if it had never existed, leaving no trace whatsoever on that plane. It is impermanent. It does leave a trace on a separate plane, though, a plane that I could call the plane of memory perhaps? It can be clearly seen that the trace is just a “copy” of the sensation, a copy for the daily mind to work with.

Except that those "disturbances" must just be sensations, no? As they are just sensations, qualities and textures and the like, are they truly disturbances, or just more qualities? Is the "copy" actually a "copy" or just more sensations happening now?
 
As for daily practice, since taking the precepts, I have been meditating for around two hours on week days and more than three hours each day at the weekend. In most meditation sessions, I start with anapanasati, get to the fourth jhana, stay there for a while and then start doing vipassana, using the body sweeping technique. After a short while, my body becomes a field of flickering tactile sensations, and the contents of my vision a field of flickering lights.
Excellent things to play with.
Any of the above helpful?
Just curious, how old are you, what do you do, etc.?

RE: Two awakenings: Two peak experiences of a Vedantist turned Buddhist
Answer
10/12/14 1:02 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Extremely helpful to me, FWIW. Thanks! I need to be reminded of these things again and again.

RE: Two awakenings: Two peak experiences of a Vedantist turned Buddhist
Answer
10/13/14 1:58 AM as a reply to Laurel Carrington.
Daniel Ingram:
When you say "awareness", what do you mean exactly? Something that is the same as phenomena, or something that is different from phenomena. It sounds like a semantic question, but is a good thing to examine, actually a key thing, actually the most fundamental question of all. If awareness is the same as phenomena, is there really awareness, or just phenomena pretending to be it? If this "awareness" is different from sensate phenomena, how can you possibly experience it?
Try this one on for size: the sensations that have the content "I", the feel of "I", were always as they are, always of the true nature of things also, even if that was not clearly perceived. Once that true nature of those sensate patterns and qualities is clearly perceived, they are known to just be more textures and colors and flavors of transient, ephemeral, intrinsically luminous space, as they always were.
Nice stuff....I too need this over and over...never know when it's actually finally sink in.
~D