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Dharma Diagnostic Clinic, aka "What was that?"

Assorted experiences, looking for clarity. Also, hi.

First time poster here. I read Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha about six months ago, fell off the spiritual wagon for a while, then started up again with The Mind Illuminated by Culadasa (no offense Daniel I just found it to be more grounded I guess). I've been meditating for 30-40 minutes consistently every day ever since, and incorporating the insight practices described in MCTB into everyday life. I'm posting here because I have a great deal of respect for this community's pragmatic approach to these things, and I want to hear someone explain what I've been experiencing within the bounds of some conceptual framework, because I certainly have no idea how to do that.

Nothing I've experienced really seems like any of the things described here, or in either book. But I've definitely been experiencing something. The world most assuredly does not look the same as it once did, and hasn't for about two months. Or, rather, it might be more accurate to say the world doesn't feel the same. Everything in my field of vision now feels like it's a part of my body. I obviously can't feel it if two objects touch or anything like that, I don't have nerve endings in my coffee table. But, in the same way I know that my arm is a part of my body, I know that everything around me is just one thing, and it all feels like it's a part of "me" or whatever. The pleasant buzzing of aliveness would be one way of putting it. The sensation you get when you think about your arm, or move your arm. I can't really describe it, but it's familiar to me. I know that I've been feeling it all my life, the only thing that's changed is that I feel it in everything now. It's not always intense, and I definitely feel it more after meditating, but it's always there.

The other thing is that my thoughts now think to me. I know that that doesn't make any sense. The best way I can describe it is thinking in second person, but its not alsways phrased like "you did this" or "you need to do that". Sometimes its just the normal narrative, but it feels less like something I'm doing and more like something that's being done to me, or at me. This one is less constant, I sometimes go back to feeling like I'm the voice in my head. But eventually something deep within me goes "hey, thinking is occurring" and my awareness snaps back to just listening to thoughts instead of being thoughts, if that makes any sense.

I would say that these things have, on the whole, been the most positive thing to happen to me for my entire life, probably. I can use them. I used to be a very socially anxious person. While I still have low energy days, it's hard for me to imagine racking my brain for what to say to people during menial conversations the way I used to. It's not like I've suddenely transformed into a social butterfly or anything, but social situations now feel so incredibly normal in a way they never have before. I'm able to really listen to people, to know what they really want to say, even if they can't find the words. And when I respond, I'm not considering every word, paralysing myself through analysis of possible ways they could misinterpret what I'm saying. I just say shit, and it works out. I'm not claiming that I always say the right thing or anything like that, but it definitely feels different than before. Conversations flow as naturally as water through a riverbed.

I'm aware that some of these things sound a little like what others describe as "awakening" or "non dual awareness" but I don't want to jump to those labels, mostly because I just can't quite bring myself to believe that I've gotten to those things after such a short interval of practice. But, they do really sound like those things, right?. Am I wrong? Is this a common n00b trap? Is there some other really real non dual awareness that I've yet to experience? A part of my fully expects the replies to this thread to be something like, "lol wtf are you talking about", but another part, a much quieter and somehow more certain part, knows that I've arrived at some kind of state change, whether its really awakening or whatever I have no idea, but it's definitely different, and, as far as I can tell, permanent. I've had spiritual highs before, days where I felt exstatic joy. This is different, it can't be described in terms of highs and lows, joy or sadness.

But what do I know, I only got into this stuff around a year ago. That's why I came here, to ask a communitiy of people who seem to think at least a little like I do what they think is going on. I like intellectualizing things, and putting things in conceptual frameworks. Obviously this stuff is experiential and can't ultimately be described, but it's interesting to try, and to hear others try, if only for the sake of the voices in our heads.

RE: Assorted experiences, looking for clarity. Also, hi.
Answer
3/17/16 6:34 AM as a reply to Nic.
howdy nic and welcome!
great post methinks. so you've read MCTB and are reading culadasa's great work.  i can't imagine a better start personally.

you are obviously making progress despite not being able to line up precisely with the classic 'maps'.  your description of the changes in your way of percieving the world around you is indicative that you are shaking up the conditioning that you have been carrying around with you basically since birth if not before.

its less important, imo, to line up with the maps than it is to notice just what you are describing:  a different way of interpreting familiar, and perhaps previously uninvestigated, experience.

with the books you mentioned you have a great set of new tools to frame your experience in non-conventional ways and to deepen your practice with some excellent methodologies. 

your description of going through life in a non-engaged way and then suddenly popping into the relatively new mode of stepping back and getting a "meta view" is the essence of mindfulness, or sati.  this is an excellent habit and as culadasa encourages, you should acknowlege a little burst of success and congratulate yourself each time you notice that happening.

i look forward to reading more.

cheers

RE: Assorted experiences, looking for clarity. Also, hi.
Answer
3/17/16 5:18 PM as a reply to tom moylan.
Thanks for your reply Tom! I've been using the positive reinforcement technique in meditation, but I hadn't thought it during it in everyday life, that's a great tip! Probably my favorite part of Culadasa's techniques is the usage of principles in neurology and psychology like that. Is there any technique of investigation that you prefer, anything in particular I should "do" while in the "meta mode"?

RE: Assorted experiences, looking for clarity. Also, hi.
Answer
3/19/16 7:58 PM as a reply to Nic.
Hi Nic,

Though this doesn't happen to me in daily life, after a very intense retreat in which I experience some deep insight, I generally have about a month in which my reality is somewhat different from other people's. One of the ways it is different is that I experience my thoughts as the voices of friends, people who are well known to me, giving me advice (sometimes not in my best interest unfortunately), or of other creatures (like animals or mythical creatures) talking with me. I generally don't experience thoughts as "mine" in any sense, that is, unless I'm reading, there is no voice in my head expressing opinions, etc. as there usually is, though there might be a thought in response to those of others. I suppose the reason I experience thoughts as coming from friends or other creatures is that because one's normal experience of language even if only mental is that it has to originate with some agent, so my mind needs to put an agent behind it if I don't perceive it as "mine" i.e. if I don't own it.

Naturally, this kind of thing is what psychiatrists use to determine whether a person is having a psychotic episode (i.e. schizophrenia) and so one needs to be careful about who one tells that this is happening else one is liable to end up in a psychiatric hospital for a longer period. Generally, this feeling of "not-mine" to my thinking fades out rather quickly after a month.

Is this similar to what you are experiencing?

RE: Assorted experiences, looking for clarity. Also, hi.
Answer
3/22/16 8:16 AM as a reply to Nic.
re:Nic(3/16/16 11:36 PM)

(probably repeating some of what others have offered)

"…I know that everything around me is just one thing, and it all feels like it's a part of "me" or whatever."
Could be an incipient awareness of the insight that "thingness", where ever we perceive it, assume it, can also be seen as mental fabrication, activity of the mind, where the "mind" is still seen as "me".

"The best way I can describe it is thinking in second person, but its not always phrased like "you did this" or "you need to do that"."
You are beginning to detach from being locked into the 1st-person perspective? A lot of your description sounds like your sense of "self" ("I","me",…) is undergoing 'phenomenological reduction' – beginning to perceive how it in fact operates (definitely an aspect of insight).

"…I'm able to really listen to people…"
Again, loosening-up of locked-up in perspective from self, you begin to notice input without having to totally shape it by your mind's own self-preocupation? As in how we often don't listen to others, but rather scan through what's being said to find the next thing we want to say about our own experience? Sounds worthwhile, being able to notice social situations, to flow through, with them.

"…"awakening" or "non dual awareness" but I don't want to jump to those labels"

Good. Such mappings can be helpful when experience is ripe enough to fully understand them, but can also become a trap of imposing yet another fabrication on experience rather than just observing and exploring, allowing deeper understanding to develop on its own.

"…arrived at some kind of state change…"
Consider also the phrasing "process change". Things (being in some state) come and go; the ability to successfully flow with whatever comes might be more sustainable.

My reactions here line-up with advice from a teacher (Ven. U Jagara), to the effect: when you're not sure what the goal is, or what the way is, a good tactic is just carefully and persistently observe what goes on. And from another teacher (Thanissaro Bhikkhu) try things out and evaluate the results (observation with discernment); go further with what works, what's rewarding. But continue to observe and discern; things often don't continue or end-up like they seem at first.

It sounds like you're already fairly perceptive along these lines. Finding an appropriate teacher can be invaluable, but determining which teacher and for how long is itself a study in discernment and insight. Check-out:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/power_of_judgment.html