Message Boards Message Boards

Toggle
Clueless. Help!
Answer
9/7/14 4:36 PM
Dear fellow meditators,
This is my first time talking about my practice to anyone since I started and I couldn't find a teacher I could relate to where I live, so it's going to be long. I sincerely apologize and hope you'd read the whole thing.
First off, a little background that might come in handy. My first memories of "spiritual" experiences go back to when I was 5-6 years old. I remember clearly sensing that there was something "off" about reality and how I perceived it as a watcher. I had trouble identifying with the sense of the "watcher" and the sense of "me". It just felt wrong! I remember suddenly starting what I now know to be called the practice of "self-enquiry", i.e. asking myself the question "Who am I?". That was triggered by either being called by my name or just hanging out or looking in the mirror in the morning. I remember feeling myself being dissolved and the visual field getting blurry/bubbly, I would then be struck by deep terror as I keep asking myself the question, getting deeper in enquiry, dissolving more and still being unable to find the solid, permanent "I" I was hoping to find and then I would just stop. I was quite depressed around that period and shitty feelings of one sort or another generally persisted to be the baseline mood throughout my life. Fast forward 10 years and I find myself feeling extremely weird and haunted with a sense of fear for no reason. I also had trouble sleeping  and would barely get 2 or 3 hours of sleep every night, until one night while I was wallowing in insomnia I suddenly feel and hear intense vibrations all over my body. I generally felt good afterwards and had no trouble going to bed at night.
In my late teens I was trying to lucid dream several times and would again experience the same intense vibrations. I also experienced these vibrations when I get sleep paralysis which hasn't happened in the last 6 years or so.
Also it's worth mentioning that I have tried cannabis about 3 times and each time I experience what I can only describe as a hellish version of an A&P event. I would feel like I'm eternally stuck in interbedded cycles (fractals?) of moods and sensations. I would cycle through moods and sensations like happy, funny, optimistic, depressed, afraid, angry, doubtful, desperate ...etc. each lasting no longer than 5 seconds and I would be able to perfectly feel each feeling arise and pass away with an intensity best described as a Gaussian distribution curve, only dying away completely and arising from nowhere instead of extending into infinity both ways. I don't recall anything special happening or getting any deep insights around all these events.
Fast-forward 6 years again and I decide to start meditating, not because of feeling a deep spiritual need, honestly, but because I have always been unable to really concentrate and I have been told that it does wonders to one's concentration abilities and I need that in my line of work. That has changed now and I plan on going all the way down the path.
I started doing Vipassana and resorted to reading books since I unfortunately haven't been able to find a teacher, community of meditators or go on retreat.
It has been 9 months now since I started and so far it has mostly been uneventful although I have only missed three or four days since I started and sometimes I would meditate for 5+ hours a day but I have always felt that I have been stuck in a cycle of moods that are mostly negative and would spur out of nowhere. However I have recently started to notice vibrations in my hand, face and legs that have a scintillating/bubbly feel to them. My visual field also seems to be vibrating with the same qualities. Most of the time when I close my eyes I see subtle flashes of light that strobe in the 5-10 Hz range. Sometimes I feel that these vibrations seem to be modulating my entire sensory experience (intensity of sensations seem to follow a sinusoid oscillating in the 5-10 Hz range). The high pitched noise I hear when I am meditating in a queit room, although seeming to be in the kHz range, are also modulated with the same frequency (5-10 Hz). My concentration abilities still fluctuate and I am unable to find a trend. I was expecting to be able to sense the exact point of arising and passing away of sensations by now but in all honesty I can only say I SOMETIMES see their start and middle clearly. The passing away seems blurry and I'm unable to see sensations abruptly vanishing. Also worth mentioning that I generally find Samatha to be generally much harder than Vipassana aside from rare occasions in which I am able to concentrate. I do feel a sense of deep calm and thoughts sort of fade to the background. Those occasions are usually the times in which I spontaneously fall into a concentrated state and start to do Samatha although I started the sit planning to do Vipassana. Prior to these experiences I thought I was in the Three Characteristics territory and although I was having insights into Impermanence and No-Self, I still don't really get the Dukkha part (Maybe I have experienced sufficient pain in the past to need further insights into that? :p ) I also only feel pain in the last half hour of my 2 hours sits and the pain does not persist after I get up. Because I thought I was in the 3Cs territory I have been particularly diligent in my practice recently expecting to cross the A&P with similar qualities as in my aforementioned experiences with cannabis.That though hadn't happened and although I felt some shift taking place a couple of days and vibrations increasing in intensity, I don't feel particularly great either. I fear that projecting past experiences into expectations of future ones has hindered my progress tend to underestimate my progress because it's a safer option, So if I had to guess, according to what I have read in the MCTB and Kenneth Folk's writings, I am still in 3Cs.
I would however deeply appreciate your take on this. Have I been cycling through Dark Nights all along, going up and down the stages? Or am I still in Pre Dukkha? Also, How do I proceed from here? It was easy noting solid sensations but now that my body sensations are all broken into little bubbles, how do I note that? Do I note the whole and spread my attention over my whole body and note all the vibrations as feeling or do I try to speed up and catch as many of these scintillations as possible? Noting feelings/thoughts is still technically easy as they still seem to arise one at a time and then vary in intensity and speed of maturing/passing away.
I would be deeply grateful to hear your opinions with regards to my progress and how to proceed.
J.

RE: Clueless. Help!
Answer
9/8/14 12:42 PM as a reply to J S. S..
Hello J S. S.,

Welcome to the DhO.
J S. S.:

I would however deeply appreciate your take on this. Have I been cycling through Dark Nights all along, going up and down the stages? Or am I still in Pre Dukkha?

I don't follow the mental maps as described on this forum, so I will defer to those who do to comment on that aspect of your questions. I personally don't find them helpful, nor am I able figure out just "what in hell" some people are talking about when they mention these short-cut descriptions (i.e. "crossing the A & P" and "pre dukkha"). Therefore, you may wish to ignore anything I have to say if you are not able to relate to it.

It will help me in being able to relate to you if I am able to understand your chronological age range. It was difficult to tell, based on your recent post. At present I have the impression that you are in your early 20s, although I could be wrong.

FYI, I have been using meditation since the age of 28. I am now 62. I come from a discourse-based background; i.e., I used the translated Pali discourses of the Buddha to help me form a practice base as guidance. Previous to that, I had been a monk in a Western contemplative religious order.  But I've probably been though many of the same or similar experiences you are undergoing now, and have asked many of the same questions you are currently asking. Understanding what age you are will help me to be able to relate to you from my own experience at that same age. Life experience can be an added element in a person's ability to understand things having to do with the Dhamma. I'm just attempting to determine how much life experience you have.

J S. S.:

Also, How do I proceed from here? It was easy noting solid sensations but now that my body sensations are all broken into little bubbles, how do I note that? Do I note the whole and spread my attention over my whole body and note all the vibrations as feeling or do I try to speed up and catch as many of these scintillations as possible? Noting feelings/thoughts is still technically easy as they still seem to arise one at a time and then vary in intensity and speed of maturing/passing away.

You are probably best served by focusing your immediate practice on developing concentration through the practice of samatha. Once you are able to (on a regular basis and at will) bring the mind to stillness and quietude, this creates the right condition for insight to arise when contemplating a knowledge insight, such as the three characteristics of existence. In my experience, I spent several months developing my abilities at samatha meditation before moving on to understand and develop other techniques. However, even so it is important to understand that, as it is mentioned in the discourses, samatha and vipassana go hand in hand, and can be practiced together when the right conditions arise.

As far as noting the sensations that you are experiencing goes, what is important is the fact that you have noticed their occurrence and that you are aware of them as they occur without break or unnoticed break in attention. These sensations can be used for other purposes using advanced contemplation techniques, however, I would not recommend that you look into that at this time. Best to keep things simple in the beginning.

Being able to recognize the arising and passing away of sensations — thoughts, the feeling factor (vedana), and motivational intentions that pass quickly through the mind — this ability will serve you well as you begin to make progress in your practice. This is because these are the things you will need to be able to recognize as arising in the mind in order to begin eliminating dukkha (dissatisfaction or unsatisfactoriness) from your experience.

If you haven't done so already, I would recommend reading Walpola Rahula's book What The Buddha Taught in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the discipline you are seeking to learn about. This book can be located and freely downloaded from the Internet in PDF format. There are other books that I've recommended to newcommers to look into that can be found at the following thread: Essential Books from Theravadin Resources. Top on that list following Rahula's book would be Bhikkhu Bodhi's book The Noble Eightfold Path, Way to The Ending Of Suffering. This, too, can be found on the Internet in PDF format at no cost. 

If you haven't already, once you begin to gain an appreciation for the background teachings found in the discourses of the Buddha, this can help to guide you (presuming you don't find a physical teacher) in your practice as you continue to seek and make progress.

In peace,
Ian

RE: Clueless. Help!
Answer
9/8/14 1:14 PM as a reply to J S. S..
howdy jss
nice to see you here.  i'm someone who doesn't see the various steps very clearly all the time although on retreat they become pretty obvious.  get consistent in your practice and let the patterns emerge without stressing about their names.

if you start to see certain patterns then maybe you can lay them on the maps to get an idea of how they line up with others' experience.

do a retreat if you can find the time as they really allow one to get a fix on how this progress tends to emerge.

have fun

tom

ps. howdy Ian

RE: Clueless. Help!
Answer
9/8/14 3:02 PM as a reply to Ian And.
Dear Ian,
Thank you for passing by and for taking the time to respond. I feel privileged for the opportunity to benefit from your long experience with the contemplative path.
It will help me in being able to relate to you if I am able to understand your chronological age range. It was difficult to tell, based on your recent post. At present I have the impression that you are in your early 20s, although I could be wrong. 

You are right. I'm 24.

You are probably best served by focusing your immediate practice on developing concentration through the practice of samatha. Once you are able to (on a regular basis and at will) bring the mind to stillness and quietude, this creates the right condition for insight to arise when contemplating a knowledge insight, such as the three characteristics of existence. In my experience, I spent several months developing my abilities at samathameditation before moving on to understand and develop other techniques. However, even so it is important to understand that, as it is mentioned in the discourses, samatha and vipassana go hand in hand, and can be practiced together when the right conditions arise. 


Although I did spend the first 3 months of my practice trying to cultivate concentration by following my breath, I recently started feel ing that I didn't do the practise justice and I should have developed my concentration further before moving on to mainly doing insight practices. I decided to do self-enquiry two days ago during the last half hour of a sit and although I would catch clear but brief glimpses of the sense of the "watcher", the "I" inside me but could not manage to keep my attention steady on it and it felt quite slippery and shaky. Is that due to it's inherent impermanence? Or is it because I need a stronger concentration to see it solidly first and then start attempting to dissolve it into impermanent strobing sensations?


Being able to recognize the arising and passing away of sensations — thoughts, the feeling factor (vedana), and motivational intentions that pass quickly through the mind — this ability will serve you well as you begin to make progress in your practice. This is because these are the things you will need to be able to recognize as arising in the mind in order to begin eliminating dukkha (dissatisfaction or unsatisfactoriness) from your experience. 
I did recently notice a subtle shift in my ability to note activity in my mind, as if I went one level deeper and now I can see the rise of the intention to note, quesitoning, control of the location and spread of attention and other feelings that feel more subtle and complex than simple irritation, joy, anger...etc.


If you haven't done so already, I would recommend reading Walpola Rahula's book What The Buddha Taught in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the discipline you are seeking to learn about. This book can be located and freely downloaded from the Internet in PDF format. There are other books that I've recommended to newcommers to look into that can be found at the following thread: Essential Books from Theravadin Resources. Top on that list following Rahula's book would be Bhikkhu Bodhi's book The Noble Eightfold Path, Way to The Ending Of Suffering. This, too, can be found on the Internet in PDF format at no cost.
I have read several books on the Buddhist teachings and I will certainly continue reading more. Thank you for the suggestions.

You suggest that I switch over completely to Samatha for a while and then go back to Insight practices and while I do somewhat feel lacking in that regard and in need of having a good balance of insight/concentration, I feel tempted by the idea of attempting to integrate both samatha and insight in my daily practice with emphasis on concentration. Do you think that's a reasonable option or will it only hinder my progress in both aspects?



Thanks again for passing by,

J.

RE: Clueless. Help!
Answer
9/8/14 3:07 PM as a reply to tom moylan.
tom moylan:
howdy jss
nice to see you here.  i'm someone who doesn't see the various steps very clearly all the time although on retreat they become pretty obvious.  get consistent in your practice and let the patterns emerge without stressing about their names.

if you start to see certain patterns then maybe you can lay them on the maps to get an idea of how they line up with others' experience.

Howdy Tom,
The idea that daily-life stresses and conditions may interfere with the effects of meditation and make them hard to pin-point and tell apart makes perfect sense. I am currently trying to go on retreat soon. I hope that will make it all a bit clearer and push things forward a bit.

Thanks for passing by,

J.

RE: Clueless. Help!
Answer
9/9/14 12:19 AM as a reply to J S. S..
Hello J S. S.,

J S. S.:
I decided to do self-enquiry two days ago during the last half hour of a sit and although I would catch clear but brief glimpses of the sense of the "watcher", the "I" inside me but could not manage to keep my attention steady on it and it felt quite slippery and shaky. Is that due to it's inherent impermanence? Or is it because I need a stronger concentration to see it solidly first and then start attempting to dissolve it into impermanent strobing sensations?

Impermanence is definitely in play here. But you use the description "the watcher." Could that be what you might call the "personality?" The one who becomes angry or joyous or irritated or confused or whatever? Your very thoughts themselves will tell you more about what that "watcher" is like and the personality he has developed. These are the underlying tendencies (and whatever triggers them, both wholesome and unwholesome) that as an advanced practitioner you will be attempting to deal with.

I'm not quite certain what you mean by "attempting to dissolve it into impermanent strobing sensations." Is that suppose to be some sort of metaphysical exercise? If that is your impression, you might be in for rude awakening, when you realize that it is mere letting go of attachment to unwholesome reaction patterns and states of mind that begins to make a difference in the quality and texture of experience. When you can cultivate equanimity toward all phenomena, you will be free of any unreasonable reaction patterns that do not serve your endeavor to remain at peace.

J S. S.:
I did recently notice a subtle shift in my ability to note activity in my mind, as if I went one level deeper and now I can see the rise of the intention to note, quesitoning, control of the location and spread of attention and other feelings that feel more subtle and complex than simple irritation, joy, anger...etc.

Very good. Developing this ability is key to making progress into insight regarding how the mind works. When you can clearly see the mechanisms working, you begin to understand how you create whatever wholesome or unwholesome reaction pattern that may arise, and are thereby able to adjust the way (through awareness and wisdom) of how you react. This is key to becoming able to "see things as they are," and thus realize the true nature of phenomena rather than reading something that was not there into the matter.

J S. S.:
I have read several books on the Buddhist teachings and I will certainly continue reading more.

Good. I was only endeavoring to determine where you were coming from and what influences have affected your thinking. Sometimes, people attempt to enter a practice without a clear enough understanding of what the founding teacher taught. They think they understand because the books they have read are about other people's impressions of what was taught rather than looking directly at the source material. This kind of clarification of information is better taken care of in a face to face, where questions and misunderstandings can be corrected instantaneously.

J S. S.:
You suggest that I switch over completely to Samatha for a while and then go back to Insight practices and while I do somewhat feel lacking in that regard and in need of having a good balance of insight/concentration, I feel tempted by the idea of attempting to integrate both samatha and insight in my daily practice with emphasis on concentration. Do you think that's a reasonable option or will it only hinder my progress in both aspects?

By all means, follow your intuition. That's exactly what I was talking about. You can always jump between the two during any particular sitting where you sense a need to concentrate on one over the other. Approaching things from the standpoint that you mention should not hinder your progress at all. On the contrary, it should add depth and acceleration to your practice.

Once again, I was endeavoring to gather more information about your experience with the practice thus far. I was making a general comment with my recommendation, based on my understanding of what you initially wrote. It needed clarification, and you provided that.

In peace,
Ian