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Dropping away experience
Answer
2/6/15 1:46 PM
Let me start with a quick timeline of events and their unfolding as I'm not sure what to make of it.

Approximately 3 months ago I was wrestling intensely with a serious double bind mentally related to the fear of death and how everything I do in some way is trying to fight the inevitable. I was walking home from work when this happened. My thoughts wrestled and fought back and forth more and more until thought finally "gave up" or dropped away. Conceptual thought just went silent. During this period I can't really say much about what happened because there was nothing to label or categorize it. I can only describe it from the perspective of my thoughts telling a story about it once they resumed. Sensory input was still there, but again I can only say that after coming out of it. Without any thought to tell the story, there was no me, no other, no time, no distance, no body, no mind, nothing, yet there was still clearly the world before categorization.

The next few days I couldn't help but think, is that really all it is? and fell into a deep depression. I continued to meditate but felt a deep sense of no meaning to anything. A few days later though (as depressed periods usually go), I "flipped" into a happy mindset but through no action of my own.

Not much came of this for awhile until I did some self inquiry/direct pointing exercises on liberation unleashed. It became clear that there doesn't need to be any meaning or center to experience and that was just an assumption. Recently, in the last month or so I've been aware of this same experience I had 3 months ago on a daily basis. I'd notice periods of time between thoughts or at random parts of the day where my thoughts would silence. This has been happening more and more and I can only describe it as a deepening. Most of my day feels like meditation on the cushion but in every day life.

When I do sit to meditate now, I've found the breath to be a distraction as an object of focus and instead have been using awareness as my object. All phenomena aware without holding or grasping. More recently I've even noticed everything but being drop away during my meditation. I can only really compare it to what deep sleep feels like, but with an awareness there, but I was definitely not asleep. 

RE: Dropping away experience
Answer
2/6/15 4:01 PM as a reply to Jayson Paul.

RE: Dropping away experience
Answer
2/6/15 4:57 PM as a reply to Jayson Paul.
Hi Jayson,

Welcome to the DhO! Hopefully you'll find some clarification through the site, so I'll see what I can suggest from your post. I know lots of the folks from LU, they're doing some great work in bringing self-enquiry to more people in a really down-to-earth way, so it's encouraging that you're familiar with their methods.

I'll comment on a few points below, but I'd be interested in knowing a bit more about your practice history prior to that initial experience:

What, if any, sorts of practice did you do before?

What do your current practices consist of?

How long are you currently sitting for each day?

My thoughts wrestled and fought back and forth more and more until thought finally "gave up" or dropped away. Conceptual thought just went silent. During this period I can't really say much about what happened because there was nothing to label or categorize it. I can only describe it from the perspective of my thoughts telling a story about it once they resumed. Sensory input was still there, but again I can only say that after coming out of it. Without any thought to tell the story, there was no me, no other, no time, no distance, no body, no mind, nothing, yet there was still clearly the world before categorization.

The next few days I couldn't help but think, is that really all it is? and fell into a deep depression. I continued to meditate but felt a deep sense of no meaning to anything. A few days later though (as depressed periods usually go), I "flipped" into a happy mindset but through no action of my own.

This sounds like a typical "Arising & Passing Event", to put it in the most common terms found on here, particularly with the cycling into a more depressive state so soon afterwards. How long the cycles last depends on many things, but it's not unusual to experience them so quickly.

Not much came of this for awhile until I did some self inquiry/direct pointing exercises on liberation unleashed. It became clear that there doesn't need to be any meaning or center to experience and that was just an assumption. Recently, in the last month or so I've been aware of this same experience I had 3 months ago on a daily basis. I'd notice periods of time between thoughts or at random parts of the day where my thoughts would silence. This has been happening more and more and I can only describe it as a deepening. Most of my day feels like meditation on the cushion but in every day life.

This is where things can get potentially complicated as, although we talk of cycles and a linear progression through various states and stages, this whole thing is non-linear and multi-leveled in the way it actually plays out...

It sounds, to me at least, like you're cycling back through the same experiential territory as before but with a stronger foundation this time. A month or so isn't all that long and isn't sufficient to say whether or not this perceptual shift is permanent. Don't get complacent in your observations; stay attentive and continue to seek out whatever still even remotely suggests an "I" or any sense of an observer. At this stage, if I'm correct in my guess as to where you're at, you should be able to penetrate the structure of personal identity as a felt experience more easily than has been the case prior to this.

Remember too that the noticing that one is not "thinking" is itself a thought, so be careful not to get carried away. Just because you find that the mental chatter has faded for a while doesn't mean that thought itself has ceased, even at a high level of practice there is still the occurrence of thought, albeit seen differently with better understanding. Rather than focusing on the lessening of coarse mental activity, look more at what is actually experienced in those moment when thought fades out - Pay attention to the rest of the senses operating without that sense of "you", it's not just thinking that supports the illusion of a Self, the mindbody fabrication is vast and thought is simply one aspect of it.

I'd say, and I don't mean to sound harsh or unsupportive, that you've only realized selflessness at an intellectual level rather than a full experiential realization. I'm not saying that what you've experienced isn't something very positive, it very much is but there's something lacking in your descriptions that suggest the insight hasn't matured fully yet. I stand to be corrected, as always, but having been there myself I'm inclined to underestimate rather than overestimate without more knowledge of your background and practice.
When I do sit to meditate now, I've found the breath to be a distraction as an object of focus and instead have been using awareness as my object. All phenomena aware without holding or grasping. More recently I've even noticed everything but being drop away during my meditation. I can only really compare it to what deep sleep feels like, but with an awareness there, but I was definitely not asleep.

What sort of practice are you doing? Insight? Concentration? It'd be helpful to know as the focus is different with each and you may be missing a trick here.

In what way do you find the breath to be a distraction? Your description above sounds more like resting in awareness, so it might be useful to start bringing more of a vipassana-based approach to your practice.

Do you notice any bodily tension or notice attention being pulled towards any particular points when that "deep sleep" feeling occurs?

Is there a sense of a physical body, e.g. can you feel your arse on the cushion?

All the best,

Tommy

RE: Dropping away experience
Answer
2/6/15 6:06 PM as a reply to Tommy M.
Thanks for you in-depth response Tommy
What, if any, sorts of practice did you do before? 
I practiced mostly Anapanasati for about a year and a half.
What do your current practices consist of?
Resting as awareness as you describe below in the morning and at night. I also practice the same many times throughout the day (riding the subway, even having a conversation if I just focus on the sound of someone's voice)
How long are you currently sitting for each day?
Currently it's 20 minutes in morning and at night not including off the cushion times. Previously it was 30 minutes to an hour per sit but that has dropped.
It sounds, to me at least, like you're cycling back through the same experiential territory as before but with a stronger foundation this time. A month or so isn't all that long and isn't sufficient to say whether or not this perceptual shift is permanent. Don't get complacent in your observations; stay attentive and continue to seek out whatever still even remotely suggests an "I" or any sense of an observer. At this stage, if I'm correct in my guess as to where you're at, you should be able to penetrate the structure of personal identity as a felt experience more easily than has been the case prior to this.

I would have to say that I'm sure this isn't a permanent shift. Nothing I've seen is permanent so far so why would this be any different. It does seem to be increasing in frequency for now however.
Remember too that the noticing that one is not "thinking" is itself a thought, so be careful not to get carried away. Just because you find that the mental chatter has faded for a while doesn't mean that thought itself has ceased, even at a high level of practice there is still the occurrence of thought, albeit seen differently with better understanding. Rather than focusing on the lessening of coarse mental activity, look more at what is actually experienced in those moment when thought fades out - Pay attention to the rest of the senses operating without that sense of "you", it's not just thinking that supports the illusion of a Self, the mindbody fabrication is vast and thought is simply one aspect of it.
Yeah as soon as I think that I'm not thinking it breaks. Resting in it is more natural and tends to last "longer", but there is no sense of time during it so language sucks for that. If I were to try to describe it better, it's more like there's just seeing, hearing, etc but no hearer or sound. It's like if subject and object were 2 2-dimensional planes and they approached each other until they merged and neither was left. I tried to focus my awareness on attention recently in meditation and it became experientially apparent that attention arises with the sensation being attended to and inseperable. Like there was nothing controlling or focusing attention, more of a appearing process of sensing itself.
I'd say, and I don't mean to sound harsh or unsupportive, that you've only realized selflessness at an intellectual level rather than a full experiential realization. I'm not saying that what you've experienced isn't something very positive, it very much is but there's something lacking in your descriptions that suggest the insight hasn't matured fully yet. I stand to be corrected, as always, but having been there myself I'm inclined to underestimate rather than overestimate without more knowledge of your background and practice.
I agree. It doesn't feel like it's matured into whatever is yet for me either. It's more of an on/off state swapping back and forth.
In what way do you find the breath to be a distraction? Your description above sounds more like resting in awareness, so it might be useful to start bringing more of a vipassana-based approach to your practice.
Focusing on the breath in a part of my body (tip of the nose for example) feels like a conceptual block. If I let that go and rest in awareness, it's more like opening the senses without labeling them at all. The breath feels like my entire body is breathing, or my entire existence is breathing when it's being experienced. Noises sound the same way. In fact I've found sound to be the easiest pointer to the timeless experience.
Do you notice any bodily tension or notice attention being pulled towards any particular points when that "deep sleep" feeling occurs?

Is there a sense of a physical body, e.g. can you feel your arse on the cushion?
When that occurred, there was no bodily tension, I didn't feel the cushion or any physical sensation. It was just the silence that everything else seems to spontaneously appear out of. Attention was combined with the silence. It wasn't all black or non-sensing, it was more like that other thing, like how you imagine it would be before you were born or where you fist goes when you open your hand. Something you can't think of or describe.

RE: Dropping away experience
Answer
2/10/15 5:06 AM as a reply to Jayson Paul.
Jayson Paul:
Without any thought to tell the story, there was no me, no other, no time, no distance, no body, no mind, nothing, yet there was still clearly the world before categorization.


That's just a nihilistic state of mind, based on conceptual reification. MC Gautama B. just went on.

RE: Dropping away experience
Answer
2/10/15 5:35 AM as a reply to Jayson Paul.
Jayson, are you familiar with the stages of insight maps? Any personal thoughts on where you think you might be?

Have you experienced cessations during your sits? Any personal thoughts on which path you might be working on?

The maps can be found at the bottom of this page:

http://integrateddaniel.info/book/

It can be tricky to diagnose what is happening without knowing more about your practice over the last year and what a typical sit looks like in your experience (what happens first, what happens as you get settled, what your mind starts investigating during the middle of a sit, what seems to be the cutting edge, what happens at the end of the sit, and what your feelings are after you finish a sit). Also describe any fear or doubt that is causing difficulty.

With more discussion it's probably possible to diagnose exactly where you are at and ways to get "unstuck".

Hope this helps!