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Where am I, if I am at all?
Answer
2/10/15 12:00 PM
I’ve been meditating for around two years consistently and have been having some fairly intense experiences which I’d greatly appreciate others opinions on. Sorry for the long post, but it’s difficult to explain without the context.

It started intensifying after around the 7th or 8th day on a 10 day Goenka retreat I took in June 2014. Up until that point in the course, I had been fairly relaxed and was feeling pretty happy with my progress. Meditation felt fluid and I found that, without much effort in terms of concentration I was entering pleasant states. Upon entering these states it was like someone was gradually turning up the lights outside, and my head felt extremely clear, with a sense that energy was able to flow through easily. Despite the recommendations against it, I found myself craving for these states and then using my breathing to amplify their effect. From what I could tell most people were simply having trouble sitting, so I was feeling pretty pleased with myself.

My pleasure didn’t last however, as on the eighth day a new sensation arose that I didn’t know how to deal with. Previously, sensations had arisen and, if they were mildly uncomfortable, I would place my attention on them and they would quickly dissolve - often accompanied by a light show. This one was much more stubborn. It felt dark and dense in nature, and the gravity it created seemed to grow larger when I placed my attention on it. I resisted it, and this was probably my mistake, it got larger and begun to make me very afraid. My heart rate escalated and I ended up having a full-blown panic attack. I was scared to begin meditating again.

When I went to bed that night, it felt like my mind had shifted gear, and was in automatic mode. These dark sensations kept arising behind my eyes that felt as though they were spinning. I begun having a panic attack in bed. I got up, told the assistant, and they made me some tea and tried to calm me down but there was no way I could sleep. Bizarrely, and i’m aware this may be an oxymoron, even as I was scared, I was calm, and I was able to observe the sensations. This went on for the next 24 hours. I resisted the sensations as much as I could and I think this intensified them but I was too scared to do anything else, then on the second night unable to sleep I tried to try and face the sensations head on by trying to be equanimous. At first they intensified, but as I locked onto them they begun to dissipate. These sensations were so strong that I was actually able to observe as they slowed down. It was like the effect of watching a car’s wheel at different speeds, it appears to be going backwards at particular frequencies. Or when a washing machine hits a certain frequency the whole house shakes. A few hours more of this, and ‘pop’ the sensation disappeared and I felt huge relief.

This wasn't to be a short-lived affair however, as after that they just kept on coming - whether I meditated or not! The best way I can describe them is like a knot of energy or pressure that you can feel pulsating inside your cranium. Then when awareness is placed on them, they swirl faster and faster releasing energy. The centre of the sensation is almost needle-like in its preciseness when the spinning is in full-swing. It then loses momentum and kind of feels like tiny bubbles dispersing in a circular pattern until finally, I feel a pop, and it's gone. Until the next one...

These were much lighter and a lot less scary then the original, but there never the less. At first, before I could go to bed, I had to spend some time focussing my awareness on some of these sensations so that I could dissipate them as much as possible to relieve the pressure in my head. During this time I was absolutely miserable and worried that it may be something physiologically wrong. I stopped meditating, but this swirling pressure behind my eyes pretty much became a background feature of my daily life. Often intensified by anxiety or reading on screen strangely.

Around two months ago I started the practice back up. Meditating for an hour to an hour and a half a day. The nature of the sensations has changed, I no longer find the sensations threatening and actually find them intriguing - they certainly hold your attention! Also they feel a little different, I still feel strong pressure around the inside of my cranium, but somehow they’re more spread out and the vibrations are less localised. As I place my attention on this pressure during meditation it will intensify, and at some point it will expand as if it’s filling my entire head. This is usually accompanied with strong light, and often feels like my crown is somehow open - with gentle but firm pulling sensation. During this time I am observing a gentle flicker which changes in frequency and is often intensified according to the breath.

Now lately, I am getting a new sensation. After sustained concentration for an hour or so, I enter into a state which feels very dense and heavy in nature, the pressure inside my head feels huge and like the space inside of my head is subject to twice the usual amount of gravity. At first I resisted it, but now i’m less shocked when it happens so can sustain it for longer. However today, out of the light came a huge surge of very bright light and energy that felt like it knocked me sideways, even my hearing was affected, everything was quieter like an explosion had just gone off. My heart rate went through the roof and I stopped practicing. I hoped it was fruition, but nope... don't think so.

My inclination of what’s going on is that during the Goenka retreat I went through the A&P and hit the dark night hard, and now i’m hoping i’m entering equanimity. I’ve been dealing with these heavy sensations behind my eyes almost permanently, but i’m kind of alright with it now and even enjoy/crave the practice.

However, I worry i’m craving path too much and perhaps this is all just fantasy - or worse, I should see a doctor! Can anybody give me some wise words of direction here?

RE: Where am I, if I am at all?
Answer
2/10/15 6:52 PM as a reply to Good Vibrations.
It doesn't sound like fantasy to me. emoticon

Sounds like you pushed a little to hard early in your meditation career, picked up the pieces, and now have a pretty good practice going. Frankly, it kinda sounds like you are in a good place. Are you particularly worried about any of the wierd stuff? Ultimately it's not so weird.

If you really want targetted advice, it usually requires describing a few sits, including 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.

Those kinds of descriptions usually paints a good picture of what's going on and can help tease out what is blocking progress.

RE: Where am I, if I am at all?
Answer
2/11/15 8:57 AM as a reply to x x.
Hi XX,

Thanks for your feedback, really appreciate it.

You know, i'm not particularly worried about the 'off cusion' sensations anymore. At first, they were pretty weird and I had imagined it was just the intensity of the retreat and they'd subside. Well, over six months later, they're still here -  but they've just become part of my experience now. They rarely get in the way and just a gentle reminder of what I've started. However, i must admit that on occasion I do wonder if it's something either more mundane or sinister! These are fleeting thoughts however.

In terms of describing a sit in more detail, I tried today to attempt to mentally note what was going on in more detail. This was quite distracting in itself but I think I got there in the end! I actually did one 60 minute and one 90 minute sit today, so will try and descibe the second, which is fairly typical right now bar one or two details.

Before I do however, I must add that after I posted last night I found myself particularly grouchy. I went to bed with particularly strong swirling sensations behind my third eye, and a general feeling that my brain was a little 'burnt out', that did cause me a bit of anxiety.

However, I woke up with resolve this morning and completed two sessions. (I'm on a work sabbatical at the moment.)

I'll describe the second. I sat down in my usual spot, cross-legged straight backed, and begun by observing my breath passing the nostrils. Within 15 seconds or so I begin seeing the familiar blueish tinged flickering and focus my attention on this. At first my head feels light and spacious and pleasant overall. After a while the flickering intensifies and I feel the typical swiring sensations around my brow, steadily moving around. The sensation feels as though it is rotating at a fair speed, and almost feels as though it is generating a light cool breeze as it does. At the centre of the rotation, I feel an irregular kind of dripping sensation. Almost like tiny little pops. It feels pleasant enough, like a light massage in the inside of my brain.

During this time my mind does wonder, but I bring it back to the flickering. The swirling sensations described above continue to gently move around, sometimes occuring in multiple places at once. After ten minutes or so, I begin to try to and expand my point of focus. I try to capture the entire field of vision, and also the limits to where I can hear sound. I try to alter my perspective to come from below and behind at the same time.

After some time (and sometimes even when I have lost focus), I notice a kick-down to another state begin. It feels as if someone is turning up the lights on a dimmer switch in the room i'm meditating. It takes about half a second to a second for the transition to occur. This is accompanied by a denser feeling behind my eyes and a change in my perception of sound. It often feels like it is getting quieter. Maybe some light tinnitus. Sometimes I get caught off guard by this and I fall back to the the previous state, but less often over previous months.

The pressure in my head here is quite uncomfortable but I've learnt to remain equanimous and observe. I lay my attention on the edges of the desnse sensation around my head for a while. Today I noticed it felt as though it was eminating from this kind of 'mask' made up of my cheekbones and brow of my skull. I explore the solidity of this sensation and note that it although it's vibrations are barely detectable because they're so fast, it's not solid. I also note for split seconds at a time, that although 99% of the time this mask feels like "me" if I focus long enough it feels as though i'm observing "it".

For whatever reason, after some time I slipped right back to the first state during a period where I thought my concentration had been strong. I was dissapointed, and noted this. Then quite suddenly, I had a strong kick-down back into what I think was the same state but much more intense. At this point my heartbeat rose rapidly and I tried to ride through it with equanimity to maintain state. I seemed to succeed and settled into it focussing on the dense, seemingly light emitting, sensation behind my eyes. This sensation intensified and I think I also felt the other spininng sensations picking up speed with their trademark breezey circular motions.

At this point I felt an arc of pressure across my brow, very slowly being drawn down. My eyes flickered for 2 secs or so, before I also had a feeling that my eyelids where being pulled gently down by two invisible strings. I had calmed down by this point and remained equanimous, in fact i'd been feeling quite down prior to starting, so I found myself focussing on suffering as I experienced all of this.

Gradually this, settled on a more consistent state, with the same rather uncomfortable pressure behind the eyes. The usual flickering, which had been absent (or less noticable) during the other events returned and I focussed on that for a while before exploring holding the contents of the entire periphery in attention. A little while after and I get a big light flash, not as strong as yesterday's thankfully, but by this point i'm getting used to it so attempt to hold equanimity and continue. It happens again, I continue but am still surprised by it's strength so need effort to remain equanimous. Then it happens again - this time I seem to catch it halfway through, and seem to be in another state. Very similar to the last but even more intense. My field of awareness is very dense, and there's lots of pressure in my head.

At this point my alarm goes off and I slowly bring myself out of it. Aterwards, i'm thinking "that was kind of interesting, but also a bit 'meh'." (how ungrateful!), i'm kind of low but also quite content with it. Two hours later and I can still see my vision lightly flickering, as well as the usual "head swirls" but a touch stronger. I'm sure they'll subside to usual levels as the day progresses.

Wow, another long post.

So I guess, my question is, from this and my last post would you have any idea where I am on the path?

On the one hand I feel like I've perhaps been in the dark night since a child (I used to play a lot with energy in my body when going to sleep or long car journeys - something to do with all that time!) and maybe this is the later of that stage, but on the other hand, I don't feel I really have the "insight" of change, suffering, and no-self to enter A&P. (Although I've been seeing firework/rapture shows during meditation since not to long after I started practicing formally, which would suggest A&P. I'm much less impressed these days! ;) They all make sense intellectually, and I *think* i've observed them all at one time or another.

I wonder if i'm just stuck on re-observation, never quite making it beyong low-equanimity. Maybe I need to brush up on my 3Cs?

RE: Where am I, if I am at all?
Answer
2/11/15 9:58 AM as a reply to Good Vibrations.
The body/mind/energy stuff can be really annoying. Basically there seems to be a lot of rewiring that goes on, especially when moving into the higher nanas and paths. The swirling mind, the tension in the head, the releases/popping are all byproducts of the rewiring. As you're discovering, just watching those events as the object of meditation will tend to pull you along into concentration states and more wierd stuff, so it makes sits kinda interesting. It's a good way to make progress. It's also true that ultimately it can feel like a bit of a hamster wheel, where nothing important happens except watching a bunch of body/mind/energetic stuff happen. Cool at first, but kind boring too. (And it's kinda funny to be having those thoughts because it's still easy to remember how really boring sits were in the very beginning of practice! emoticon )

It's clear you have a decent amount of concentration as a baseline, quickly moving into light jhana, probably 3rd (blue light and breezy/cool) and the turning up the dimmer switch is very much associated with making it into equanimity. So I would say that you are working through dark night and equanimity with a moderate amount of concentration beyond the momentary concentration maintained by investigating sensations as they arise.

I'm going to lean toward no Stream Entry yet, which is the safest way to think about this stuff, but what you are describing is also similar to how second path plays out -- like first path but with a lot more jhana and wierd re-wiring going on. Basically when someone has higher levels of concentration it makes mapping the nanas more difficult.

Ultimately, I would suggest one minor addition to your practice which will probably help move you along: continue to follow the sensations which are most obvious in experience, just as you are doing now, but also try to find and include the slight sensation of discomfort or "ill will" that is always subtly present. It will feel somewhat flat and boring and a bit yucky and kinda hiding in the background -- that dissatisfaction which is a part of life. If you can include those sensations and stay interested with everything else that is occuring, it will probably bring you into new terrain.

No need to change what you are doing that much, just tweak it a little. Hope this helps!

RE: Where am I, if I am at all?
Answer
2/11/15 10:12 AM as a reply to x x.
By the way, the big white flash and the heart racing seems to be associated with the appearance of a visual "nimitta", which happens with fairly strong concentration. Something about it is so shocking that many people report a little panic and then losing it. Some traditions really emphasize cultivating and maintaining the nimitta, which seems like a good goal if you have lots of time to devote to it (on retreat/as a monastic)... but it's very possible to make progress to the next Path without working on that specifically. (If you are interested you can google/read about it, but just know there are a lot of strong opinions about it. My opinion is to not worry and just keep practicing.) Anyway, hope that tidbit is interesting.

RE: Where am I, if I am at all?
Answer
2/11/15 11:03 AM as a reply to x x.
Thank you! I can't tell you how grateful I am. You've made my day!

I would agree, I don't think i'm at stream entry yet. As far as I can tell, no clues as to any fruitions. So this makes sense and is intuitively the stage I feel I am it. I think you are right about the concentration. I think this is something I may have cultivated in some way prior to taking up the practice. As I mentioned, I was actually "meditating" as a child, intrigued by the dancing lights and shapes when I closed my eyes and enegy I could direct to my hands and feet so that might explain it. Also, I realised just how imbalanced this was when compared with my equanimity. This was made extremlely clear with the mess I got my self into on retreat. The concentration went to work all on it's own whilst the rest of me was engaged in mild (and not so mild) panic!

I will check out the discussion on Nimitta. It's certainly quite a shock when it happens. Interestingly, for the past five or six years I have had a curious phenomenon occur when i'm just drifting off to sleep and am over-tired. (Heavy night out usually being the culprit.) I will be drifting off to sleep, in a slightly wired over-tired state of mind, when just at point I would usually drift off - BANG. Bright white light, complete disorientation, and huge panic. The first time it happened I didn't sleep a wink. I'm more used to it now but it's still a shocker! I had self diagnosed it as the aptly named "exploding head syndrome" - an unexplained, but fairly common experience apparently. But maybe it's somehow related?

And again, thank you so much, you're very kind - and I'm going to do exactly as you suggest!

RE: Where am I, if I am at all?
Answer
2/11/15 11:37 AM as a reply to Good Vibrations.
Good Vibrations:
I will be drifting off to sleep, in a slightly wired over-tired state of mind, when just at point I would usually drift off - BANG. Bright white light, complete disorientation, and huge panic.


Ah, you know, this pre-sleep thing might be different than the meditation event. I was talking to a friend of mine in kinesiology and he said that there is something that happens as the body/muscles depolarize on the onset of sleep... there can be a quick jump in the muscles and a flash in the mind when this happens.

I get the mind-flash sometimes very strongly along with an audio that's kinda like a bullet richochet, especially before mid-day naps. My personal guess is it isn't meditation related, for what it is worth.