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Where am I?
Answer
7/10/15 2:18 AM
Firstly a big thank you to Daniel for setting up this site and the excellent MCTOB I am currently in the process of reading. I have probably learnt more in the last few weeks since I discovered this site than the previous four years combined.

Please forgive my ignorance and lack of knowledge of the technical terms etc. I have been practicing for about four years, my process has mostly been experiential and with the exception of the odd retreat, no one I know is into this stuff and I've not had much access to teachers and so have mostly been in the dark about the technical aspects and stages of enlightenment. 

After reading the excellent [url="An Idiot's guide to dharhttp://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/98873ma diagnosis"]"An Idiot's guide to dharma diagnosis" it seems like I might have crossed the A&P, but cheifly there are two expereinces that stand out in my practice so far.

Experience 1
I read Tolle's "Practicing the Power of Now" and in the following days after I practiced choiceless awareness. I fell into a deeply blissful and peaceful state, all social anxiety vanished, I felt calm and centred like I had finally found my place in the world and there was a sense of finally "coming home" to myself.

In the days that followed I began to see a gap in my thought stream and could for the first time clearly see that I was not my thoughts and that there appeared to be a presence or awareness that was witnessing these thoughts.

I began to ask myself things like "If I am not these thoughts, then who am I?" "Who is the one who is witnessing these thoughts?" and "If I am not me - then who am I?" I began to become anxious and fearful as my sense of self started to dissolve and rushed back to the safety of the thinking mind as I was fearful I was going to loose myself or go mad, pondering over these questions that I could not resolve.

Pretty quickly the deep sense of peace and security vanished and I was back to my normal, ordinary self, thinking and lost in the stories of the mind. Ever since then I have been chasing the experience, trying to make sense of it, trying to find that place of deep peace and security and I have not managed to replicated it since.

Expereince 2
Fast forward a couple of years I am now meditating every day and on an intensive retreat in Thailand, following the Mahasi method of practice by noting all expereinces. On the 4th or 5th day I began to feel a lot of energy building, my body was teaming with warmth, energy and electrical sesations and deep feelings of love and compassion radiating from my solar plexus.

I continued to note all sensations and eventually, all other sensations apart from a very weak sensation of the breath fell away and I kid of felt like my body had disapeared or vanished, I began to see a brightness through closed eyes and could make out shapes of what appeared to be beings made of light, it seemed like they were welcoming me somewhere with arms outstretched standing either side of me as I floated along a path they were aligned either side of me. It was a very blissful experience but then I became anxious and afraid as I thought I might be seeing spirits and then what appeared to be something darker and evil was staring at me which increased my fear.

I became very fearful, anxious and ungrounded in the hours after this experience and was seeing some colours and little lights but eventually levelled out. I put the whole expereince down to a "psychotic episode" and resolved to get back to practice and be more mindful of my mental state. The feelings of love and compassion continued to wax and wane for the rest of the retreat until they finally disapeared.

Nothing like that has happened since and my practice has kind of been pretty much stable ever since but with no further insights, I practice around 40 mins to 1 hour a day but I do really wonder what I'm doing or why I am practicing most of the time - getting anywhere can seem quite hopeless. 

Now I'm just trying to figure out where I am on the path and where I need to get to next. 

RE: Where am I?
Answer
7/10/15 10:19 AM as a reply to Jay.
Jamie:
I began to see a brightness through closed eyes and could make out shapes of what appeared to be beings made of light, it seemed like they were welcoming me somewhere with arms outstretched standing either side of me as I floated along a path they were aligned either side of me. It was a very blissful experience but then I became anxious and afraid as I thought I might be seeing spirits and then what appeared to be something darker and evil was staring at me which increased my fear.  


Read the section headed

The Ten Imperfections of Insight (vipassanupakilesas)

on this page: http://www.vipassanadhura.com/sixteen.html#onec

Quote from that page:

"Though not in themselves obstacles, the meditator may be tempted to cling to these experiences, believing them to be important, rather than continuing to note the arising and passing away of mental and physical phenomena in the present moment. At such time the guidance of a teacher is invaluable."

RE: Where am I?
Answer
7/11/15 2:36 PM as a reply to Derek.
Thanks for the link Derek, it's been an interesting read - I can clearly recognise a lot of these imperfections, particularly in clinging to the first experience where there was an externalisation of the sense of self and the subsequent feelings of peace and tranquillity. 

Initially, after reading some of the A&P accounts here I wondered if it was possible that I might have crossed it myself. I began to review my past experience to see if I had anything that might 'fit' an A&P scenario - in my eagerness to chart my progress and see where I am on the path.

Again, after reading I can see that I was lost in the experience rather than knowing, noting and letting go. 
Time to find a teacher... Interestingly enough one of the persons who translated the "16 stages of insight" link you sent me was one of the first people to teach me meditation - it must be a sign ;)

RE: Where am I?
Answer
7/11/15 3:18 PM as a reply to Jay.
Here's my guess.  Take it with a grain of salt because I have a tendancy to be overconfident in my dharma diagnosis.  I am going to paraphrase your words rather than copy and paste because I can't get the damn clipboard function to work on my new laptop.

The initial 'calmness and centering' you felt was the clicking into nana 1... Your first 'real' meditative experience.  Your body and mind are starting to feel the effects of increased clarity.  First starting to float down the stream before hitting the rapids of the a&p, the rocky, bumpy section of the river at the dark night, the calm pool where the water gathers before the waterfall (equanimity) and then dropping of the waterfall (cessation)... Sorry just having fun with the metaphor. 

The seeing of the difference between the witness and thoughts is the progression into nana 2.  It usually manifests for me as seeing the relationship between things... Energetically, the meditator is now starting to get 'hit' with the vibratory experience it was previously just witnessing.  'Subject' is starting to be included in the process of clarity.

The feeling of the self dissolving is nana 3.  Subject and object are now both soaked in this newfound direct, experiencing.

When you started thinking, you lost your momentum and returned to nana 0 (meaning, just not in the process at all).  This thinking might be a hindrance that arises, for you, specifically, at nana 3.  That is something to keep in mind. 

You say you have been chasing the experience ever since.  It is possible (and likely) you have been reaching nana 3 again but it has not manifested as strongly (and never will manifest as strongly as the first time you go through it).  This is why I think it is useful to notice the distinction between 'hard' and 'soft' nanas (not just samatha jhanas).

The first part of experience 2 is probably your first a&p (a 'hard' 4th nana).  You had visual & auditory hallucinatory symptoms related to the a&p.

The second part of it is when you were beginning to enter the 5th nana, dissolution.

Eventually you 'put the whole experience down.'  I think this could be related to the hindrance you experienced during the 3rd nana in experience 1.  It is possible that instead of giving in to the emotion of fear and using thought as a shield, at these times, you should actually open up further and see even more clearly in order to expand your cutting edge.  It may feel like you are going crazy.  This may just be a necessary side effect of allowing the energy to mature.

The disclaimer is that you have to be grounded physically, psychologically and emotionally, in order to do this safely.   

You also wonder why you are still practicing even though you haven't had the fireworks recently: it is probably because you have crossed the a&p, which is like a 1/2 path (thanks dreamwalker/ kenneth folk 8 stage model)... it has changed you enough to give you permanent motivation to meditate.

You then said it feels like you aren't getting anywhere.  What you have to realize is that each nana has sub-levels.  There isn't a specific way to divide them, but for the sake of the fractal model, lets say each nana has 4 sub-jhanas (gaining momentum, peak momentum, losing momentum, zeroing out).... this is the process of maturation of the insight from a particular nana. 

To get back to early dissolution (where you were on retreat), you have to go through 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, 4.4, 5.1 (farthest you've gone perhaps)....

Your mind-body system has to absorb the energy of each of these stages... they are somehow being integrated into 'you'...  Good things are probably happening to your chakras/subconscious mind.

My suggestion, therefore, is that you ARE making progress, but it is slow going as you are trudging through the sub-levels of the 1st 3 nanas.  I believe that Daniel suggests that many people move back and forth between nana 0 (once again, not a real thing, just a convenient designator) and their cutting edge for decades ("floundering in lower stages"). 

Just know that you are aiming to cross the a&p again and with sufficient noting it will happen, and that, when it does, progress will be faster (although ALL the nanas have sub-levels whose insights must be mastered in order to eventually reach 4th path).

RE: Where am I?
Answer
7/14/15 2:14 AM as a reply to Noah.
Hi Noah,

Great post, thank you for taking the time to spell things out, I’ve been reflecting and digesting everything you said over the past few days. knowing about these maps and the different stages has given me a clearer understanding of where I am and where I need to get to. Awesome! 

The cycling through the various stages again and again makes sense, if you don't have time for an intensive retreat or practice, I guess it takes a while for you to get back to the same level you were at before? Or can you get back there through diligent daily practice?

It is possible that instead of giving in to the emotion of fear and using thought as a shield, at these times, you should actually open up further and see even more clearly in order to expand your cutting edge.  It may feel like you are going crazy.  This may just be a necessary side effect of allowing the energy to mature.

I think you hit the nail on the head here this is something I was not aware of, any time I notice strong fear I tended to bail back to the safety of the thinking mind rather than noting the fear and staying with it.

I was thinking back about being on my last retreat I was stuck in the fear stage for the majority of the time and unable to move through it - now I know it’s an integral part of the process that everyone goes through - it makes things seem much easier/normal and everything seems possible.

One other significant experience comes to mind of the retreat where I had the A&P type event. I was suffering badly for days, with posture, pains, strong negative emotions etc, it was excruitiating but I continued to note through it and just at the point where I didn’t think I could take anymore - something snapped and the mental and physical torment just stopped, there was no more pain, no more emotional torture it completely vanished there were no feelings of joy - just calm steadiness.

At that point it felt like a permanent change, some significant part of my subconscious anger or negative emotional behavioural traits had been permanently burned away never to return.

I’m speculating here but could this have been knowledge of equanimity? Or A&P related phenomena - it seemed significant at the time.

RE: Where am I?
Answer
7/14/15 10:25 AM as a reply to Jay.
It seems likely to me that you can make it back to your retreat-cutting-edge through daily life practice only.  But what has worked for me is noting in daily life which is sort of like a fusion of retreat practice and nonretreat formal practice.  So my experience is a little different because I would wake up every day and not stop noting until I reached my cutting edge, and then fall asleep with that momentum.

Its possible that the breakthrough you described is equanimity.  Or it could be one of these sub-jhana aspects.  It seems unlikely that you would have made it through the entire dark night for the first time ever with it as your cutting edge in such a short time.  It could be more A&P changes.  I think the most informative thing about it is to observe how the progress of insight really is a process of purification with positive mental-health side-effects.  Use that notion to give you motivation to trudge through the hours and weeks you have to spend getting back to the A&P.

RE: Where am I?
Answer
7/15/15 1:49 AM as a reply to Noah.
It seems likely to me that you can make it back to your retreat-cutting-edge through daily life practice only.

I guess it's just a case of building momentum, whenever I'm not working at my computer I'm noting continuously as much as I can. Great to know that hitting the cutting edge in daily life is achievable. Out of interest how much time do you spend on the cushion every day to reach your cutting edge?

It's possible that the breakthrough you described is equanimity.  Or it could be one of these sub-jhana aspects.  It seems unlikely that you would have made it through the entire dark night for the first time ever with it as your cutting edge in such a short time. 

I think after reading the map of the models, I'm starting to recognise the stages in daily meditation (or at least I think I can) and that I might regularly be passing the A&P on an occasional basis (every couple of weeks) but it doesn't seem to be nearly as impressive.

This morning for instance it took about 15 mins walking and then after 10 mins sitting I seemed to hit the A&P, (joyful feelings, bright vision) becuase after that I had a lot of unexplainable fear and then it turned to saddness and disgust – but I didn't get any further, it just kind of levelled out in to a low level meloncholy. That was after about 45 mins of meditation, so I guess I'll need to extend my meditation time if I want to keep pushing that "cutting edge" 

I think the most informative thing about it is to observe how the progress of insight really is a process of purification with positive mental-health side-effects.

For sure, I'm seeing them every day and thanks again to you and Derek for all the valuable info/advice, I'm going to continue to hang out here, learn experiement and gather as many pearls of wisdom as I can emoticon

RE: Where am I?
Answer
7/15/15 7:24 AM as a reply to Jay.
I never did much formal sitting.  It would take me between a few hours to a day and a half to reach my cutting edge by noting continuously in daily life.

I highly reccomend noting in daily life whenever possible.  Otherwise you are confined to a specific period of the day to make progress.

Sounds like your headed in the right direction.  Good to hear you're past the a&p on a regular basis.  In my experience, the more you pass over a nana, the less dramatic it is.  Keep this in mind when nanas 6 through 10 are your cutting edge.