DN, Equanimity, or Other?

Jason, modified 7 Years ago at 11/23/14 1:27 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 11/23/14 1:11 PM

DN, Equanimity, or Other?

Posts: 3 Join Date: 11/23/14 Recent Posts
OK, been lurking here for some time, this is my first post. I hope for some ideas about where I may be on the maps, if anywhere!

Brief background: I've meditated off-and-on for several years, with far more time "off" than "on." Picked it up again seriously about two months ago, during which time I've been sitting about 1.5-2 hrs per day on average. My initial practice goal during this period was to reliably attain (light) 4th Jhana, which I'm quite confident I'm now able to do. My practice most sessions is breath concentration until I'm established in 4th Jhana, then switching over to a more open awareness, loose Vipassana practice. I'm not doing any formal noting, but rather trying to make my attention wide and notice all phenomena. 

So I'd like some feedback on my recent experiences, and whether they align with the progress of insight. I went through a period a month or so ago, lasting about a week, that hit many of the A&P criteria. My confusion is that if it was followed by a Dark Night, it's been a very mild one indeed. In the week following putative A&P, I experienced a very light depression. During my sits, at the point I had previously felt piti arise, I instead tended to get pinprick itches in my face. I still hit Jhanas, but they felt "inverted" in a way that's hard to describe. I had visual strobing whenever I closed my eyes. This was all subtle enough - besides the itching and strobing - that I can't rule out scripting. This lasted a week, after which my Jhanas have returned to feeling the way they did during A&P week.

Now I'll describe what I currently experience most sits. I bring myself up through Jhanas 1-3, and into 4; the progression feels essentially the same each sit. Once I'm in 4, I expand out my attention, and one of two things happens: (a) my mindfulness collapses and I get rapidly sucked into thought or hypnagogia - it's almost like springing a trap door in my mind. Or, (b) I perceive vibrations in multiple sense modalities (usually visual and tactile, sometimes auditory), these become synchronous across senses and grow in spatial extent and intensity. This generally coincides with my body-sense dropping away or becoming wildly distorted (one time I felt like a rectangle...) This is often accompanied by some fear or nausea, but it's mild, transient, and easy to objectify. Sometimes I get both (a) and (b) in the same sit, usually with (a) transitioning suddenly into (b), or (b) "shorting out" into (a). Sometimes I just get one or the other.

So from reading MCTB and these forums, I can map these experiences either onto Dissolution (a) transitioning into the next few Dark Night stages (b), or onto low-Equanimity (a) into high-Equanimity (b). I hesitate to say Equanimity because I've put so little time in so far, and because I don't feel anything particularly "profound" outside of meditation. At the same time, I have essentially no negative feelings that I'd ascribe to a DN. Or maybe since I'm not doing a particularly rigorous Vipassana practice I haven't experienced insight stages at all?

Any feedback, or advice on where to take my practice from here, would be greatly appreciated!
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Richard Zen, modified 7 Years ago at 11/23/14 5:54 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 11/23/14 5:54 PM

RE: DN, Equanimity, or Other?

Posts: 1652 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
Usually the A & P is euphoria from seeing everything arise and pass away so that you gain more freedom from thinking habits. Then the dark night is noticing the passing away part and realize all the things that you are attached to don't last forever. You go through disenchantment towards those things and experience withdrawal symptoms. Some people get through them easier than others but other than having good concentration no one knows why someone will get the shakes and headaches and others will get less. Equanimity is when you don't have to block things out with concentration but can let negative perceptions and thoughts arise and pass away without being disturbed. It's peaceful and calming. Then you have to develop equanimity towards all experiences until stream-entry.
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William Golden Finch, modified 7 Years ago at 11/23/14 6:21 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 11/23/14 6:21 PM

RE: DN, Equanimity, or Other?

Posts: 556 Join Date: 11/17/13 Recent Posts
That's a very precise and accurate summary of the whole thing, related in understandable language. Nice.
Jason, modified 7 Years ago at 11/23/14 6:57 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 11/23/14 6:56 PM

RE: DN, Equanimity, or Other?

Posts: 3 Join Date: 11/23/14 Recent Posts
Richard, thanks for the reply. You say,
"Equanimity is when you don't have to block things out with concentration but can let negative perceptions and thoughts arise and pass away without being disturbed."

Which I think gets at the heart of some my confusion, i.e. the relationship between concentration and insight. Specifically, between 4th Jhana equanimity and Equanimity as an insight stage. Would you classify the former as "blocking things out with concentration?" Somewhat more generally, I can relate to the points in your post - seeing phenomena arise & pass, feeling disturbed by certain passings, meeting this with equanimity - but with the major caveat that this happens only some of the time and within the limited context of light concentration states. Is it necessary that I practice observing 3Cs outside of concentration states, and outside formal meditation, if my goal is stream entry? I've been drawn to the idea of developing concentration as a "tool" to focus insight, perhaps this is ultimately a dead end?
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Richard Zen, modified 7 Years ago at 11/23/14 8:08 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 11/23/14 7:43 PM

RE: DN, Equanimity, or Other? (Answer)

Posts: 1652 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
Jason:
Richard, thanks for the reply. You say,
"Equanimity is when you don't have to block things out with concentration but can let negative perceptions and thoughts arise and pass away without being disturbed."

Which I think gets at the heart of some my confusion, i.e. the relationship between concentration and insight. Specifically, between 4th Jhana equanimity and Equanimity as an insight stage. Would you classify the former as "blocking things out with concentration?" Somewhat more generally, I can relate to the points in your post - seeing phenomena arise & pass, feeling disturbed by certain passings, meeting this with equanimity - but with the major caveat that this happens only some of the time and within the limited context of light concentration states. Is it necessary that I practice observing 3Cs outside of concentration states, and outside formal meditation, if my goal is stream entry? I've been drawn to the idea of developing concentration as a "tool" to focus insight, perhaps this is ultimately a dead end?

Concentration towards an absorption on just the breath is like blocking out thinking. It's a refined form of pleasure but there's more that can be done. Concentration is helpful in daily life to deal with agitation (see 7 factors of awakening for how concentration can be used as a tool instead of an end). I'm sure you notice that the jhanic benefits fade over time (which is another example of the 3 characteristics). Another example of the 3C's is the stress from striving to keep in the concentration state. Concentration in dealing with insight is helpful for seeing more detail of the 3 characteristics when not exclusively looking at the breath.

Just so you understand: Consciousness, knowing, and awareness are all words meaning the same thing. You know when you're thinking, you know when you're seeing etc. Thinking is treated as a sensation because if you like or dislike a thought you can feel it in your body.

Some people do all the jhanas and get disenchanted with them (because they are impermanent sources of happiness). Some use the concentration to get up as high as they can and let go keeping it. Then they let the momentum of the concentration continue with any object in experience until they get a cessation of consciousness AKA nirvana. You see the purpose of insight practice is to show there is no-self part in your experience. Your consciousness can't be separate from objects. Experience is really consciousness-objects. All parts breakdown into smaller parts down to sub-atomic particles and we still haven't found a permanent indestructible part.

Seeing things vibrating with cause and effect is enough. We'll leave the physics to the physicists.

In insight practice (like with noting) you are looking at anything that can arise and not just exclusively the breath. Rumination is thinking about problems instead of thinking about solutions, which makes us feel stuck. This is the enemy. When this is a habit we need to target the conditioning the same way we forget other conditioning/habits/skills/addictions etc. Eg. If I learn to play piano and develop the habit/skill and then I stop for 5 years the skill atrophies. I don't need to meditate for this to happen. How about putting negativing thinking through this process, and condition positive thinking in its place? Metta is a good concentration practice that can go up to the 3rd jhana and is valuable conditioning. I would also recommend cognitive behavioural therapy for further conditioning of healthy beliefs:

http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/5211785

How we think and believe affects how we feel.

If you get good at consistent noting (please do this in daily life as well) after about two years of good practice the habit of ruminating and releasing stress hormones decreases markedly. The habit of staying in the present moment is replacing ruminating. Over more years it decreases further until people start getting to the point where they are struggling against feeling good most of the time. Sometimes we give up too soon but giving up at certain stages is not the end of the world.

The popular version of the Advaita Vedanta enlightenment is to rest in knowing/awareness/consciousness. It's like a mirror reflecting all 5 senses plus thinking and this consciousness doesn't ruminate or judge. That brings a lot of relief.

Here are some guidances for that:

http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/210/talk/11119/
Cittamatra

http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/210/talk/11125/
Cittamatra - guided meditation

People tend to stop here because it feels so much better but there's still some flaws:
  • Consciousness has no shape, color, time, or location in space.
  • Clinging to no thinking is simply more subtle aversion.
  • Are habits really changing? Often people feel better but their old habits are still running.
  • If consciousness is not a static mirror reflecting then there must be more actions and moving around that isn't being seen.
  • When I pay attention to thinking it doesn't hurt. Yet if I'm not paying attention then the negative thinking habits will hurt.
  • When I welcome negative thinking habits or negative perceptions the stress seems to drain.
So we need to delve deeper into dependent arising which is very subtle. At first they look like separate links in linear time bouncing off each other like billiard balls from consciousness to having stress. With further investigation it's more like vibrating scaffolding acting much more quickly on each other with a seamless interdependence. Consciousness is simply inferred because experiences are happening. There's no mirror. Consciousness is also conscious of subtle operations like intentions moving your actions (eg. habitual intentions moving your head to look at objects to like or dislike in the same ways you have done in the past). Any measurement of objects, including how good or bad they are for you in time, can have a stress hidden in them. 

Some dharma talks with much more detail I would recommend listening to over and over again:

http://www.dharmaseed.org/retreats/1044
Rob Burbea's emptiness retreat. Especially 2/12/2010 - 2/15/2010.

http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/210/talk/11929/
How we process time.

So you can see that there are many insights and I'm still learning more. Some like to call it peeling an onion. Many people stop off at different layers and that's up to you how far you want to see.

Have fun!

Richard
Jason, modified 7 Years ago at 11/23/14 8:13 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 11/23/14 8:13 PM

RE: DN, Equanimity, or Other?

Posts: 3 Join Date: 11/23/14 Recent Posts
Richard, haven't had a chance to fully digest this post yet but many thanks for the *extremely* thorough response! This forum has been a great resource and inspiration in my recent practice.