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Stagnating on the Path?
Answer
4/1/16 10:40 PM
Hello friends,

I've been practicing meditation for several years now, and have done three 10-day Vipassana retreats, as well as a 40-day retreat at Pa Auk Tawya, in Burma. Meditation has been a consistent part of my life (although with fluctuating intensity in formal practice) since my first Vipassana retreat, about 4 years ago.

I'm fairly confident I crossed the A&P as a teen while experimenting with lucid dreaming/astral travel/sleep paralysis. Since that time, my outlook on life has changed quite a bit, in a way that fits typical Dark Night symptoms (pointlessness of worldly concerns, perpetual search for "an answer to life", feeling that something is "wrong", accrued interest in spiritual practices).

I believe I've also had another A&P experience in my first Vipassana retreat (about 5 years after 1st one). At the time, it seemed like a complete and everlasting ecstatic breakthrough, and I thought I "finally had it", as I suppose is common. Obviously, this faded away into a darker period on retreat, with a glimpse of peace at the end (Equanimity?).

In further retreats, especially the last one (10-day Vipassana in November 2015), I've been taking meditation practice more seriously. On retreat, I think I've consistently achieved the High Equanimity nana, but not 1st path yet, although there definitely were a few near misses that I thought "were it" at the time. 

Now, I'm in a context where I live in a peaceful environment, have few obligations (working part-time from home) and have a lot of spare and alone time. I feel the urge to get this done, as I'm tired of the switching back and forth between mild to strong despair/boredom/hopelessness and peacefulness/ease/spacefulness. 

At the moment I'm practicing at least an hour of sitted meditation a day, unless there's some social event going on. I also try to keep mindfully practicing during daily activities. My main practice is noting practice, but I sometimes revert back to body-scanning and anapana when I can't seem to concentrate. 

Here's what my last sits looked like:

1. Little to no concentration. I note a few obvious phenomenon, then wander off, then note, then wander ...

2. Until I "get it", at which point I can note obvious sensations / mental events with a fair degree of consistency. It feels like I "get in the zone", and is often accompanied by a subtle rush. It usually takes me somewhere between a few seconds to a few minutes to get there, and after ...

3. Noting gets enjoyable, like a mildly challenging game done successfully. Sensations and mental events become a bit more intense until...

4. The sensations become predominently uncomfortable, but not overwhelmingly so. The speed at which I can note also increases, then...

5. The sensations get more uncomfortable. I'll get several itches on the body at the same time, or a leg will seem unusually painful. The sensations are "sharp". If I give in and scratch/move/attempt to relief pain, I lose concentration and fall back to 3-4, and I then the discomfort comes back anyway. Unless...

6. I strive to see the impermanent nature of what's happening, dissecting the itches and pains. At some point, I seem to break through a barrier of solidity and feel a few rapid rushes of energy, similar to the feeling you get when your head is quickly coming out of the water. The sensations are clear, vibratory and distinctively pleasant, but also a bit too "high energy" to be profoundly enjoyable...

7. Then, the sensations keep their vibratory quality, but they lose their clarity. They get less "sharp" and more diffuse, and they also lose most of their pleasantness. It's typical for me to wander off at that stage. I easily lose concentration/motivation and get lost in content. Also, if I'm meditating lying down, I can easily fall asleep. If I can summon enough motivation to keep noting, I usually get into...

8. Darker territory. Although the sensations/mental processes that were seen previously are still there, there's now a new layer of "background" stuff that's seen. The struggle to continue practicing, the pointlessness of what's going on, the urge to get somewhere else, and the feeling of "being stuck" all come to the surface. I find it less easy to "space out" during this stage, as the urge to "space out" is seen, and seems pointless. THERE IS NO ESCAPE is how I would label this stage. This is where I typically spend a large portion of my meditation time in. Sometimes though...

9. Seeing clearly no escape in "phenomena", my focus seems to shift from "looking for something" to "seeing what's going on". Unlike the previous stages, I find it harder to "nail down" how to get there, it seems like I have to learn it anew everytime. For example, if last time "letting go into the process" worked, now "letting go" is seen as "trying to let go", which is futile. During my last sit, seeing the interdependant and impersonal nature of phenomena is what got me through ("All this is happening by itself"). Then...

10. There can be sort of a "honeymoon" period, where I switch back and forth between "feeling stuck in phenomena", and "seeing the feeling of stuckness and the phenomenon as two similar phenomena, no big deal". I can often space out during this stage, often falling back to 9 or even (it seems) right at the beginning. A feeling of dissociation with sensations (my body seems like it's "over there, in front of me") and with mental phenomena (thoughts, struggles, intentions, feelings, and even the act of noting seem to be happening on their own, and aren't as "sticky").

Generally (especially off retreat), the 1-hour timer I use will ring right around "stages" 8-9-10. I leave the cushion feeling more sensitive, detached, sometimes feeling bored/"thirsty" and sometimes peaceful, enthusiastic and spacious, according to which stage my meditation ended in. This afterglow fades away within a few hours at most. However, on a few occasions...

11. Subtler phenomena gradually gets "objectified" until less and less of it is in the "background". Subtle intentions, feeling of spaciousness and even of time are seen as "out there". Also, different sense doors seem to "merge" into one big flow of "perceptible experience". It gets harder to note "seeing" and "hearing" individually, for example, as the distinction between the 2 seem arbitrary ("Where's does seeing stop and hearing begin?"). Then...

12. It seems like the only thing I can note is "phenomena", "phenomena", with perhaps a few "intending", "time", "space" and "noting" here and there. The furthest I think I've got is a point where there only was only "phenomena" and "me", and I felt a huge tension between the two, like they simply wanted to attract each other but I was resisting from the "back". I don't remember ever getting further.

Wow, that's quite a wall of text. Hopefully that was entertaining to read. 

My "plan" is to keep practicing, but it feels like I've been doing this for ages. Has anyone shared similar experiences and "broken through"? I welcome any advice/encouragement!

Thanks so much!

RE: Stagnating on the Path?
Answer
4/1/16 7:43 PM as a reply to Gabriel.
My approach was to note with mental labels, continuously in daily life.  I am an advocate of this, personally.  That way you never lose your cutting edge completely.  Also keep the resolution/intention in mind.  You could even visualize how it might feel to get SE.  The visualization only works if you can release attachment before, during and after it.  

RE: Stagnating on the Path?
Answer
4/2/16 2:53 AM as a reply to Gabriel.
Gabriel:

My "plan" is to keep practicing, but it feels like I've been doing this for ages. Has anyone shared similar experiences and "broken through"? I welcome any advice/encouragement!

Thanks so much!


Have you ever bothered to stop and question who is actually having all these ideas about future attainments?

RE: Stagnating on the Path?
Answer
4/2/16 12:19 PM as a reply to Gabriel.
Sounds really good Gabriel, seems like you're very close.

I would basically recommend keep doing what you are doing, but try to catch yourself earlier when you hit the difficult stages and try to be more objective about it. (Oh, this is what it feels like when the mind thinks it is stuck. Oh, this is what it is like when the mind wants to escape. Oh, this is the flow of the mindstream. Oh, this is my mind trying to judge my practice. Oh, this is the mind wanting to change practice methods. Etc.) As Robert is pointing out, everything should be noticed/objectified in experience, especially things that seem to be me or mine or I --- especially "my problem".

Basically, the earlier you notice the things that hang you up, the less time you will spend in the lower stages and the more time you spend in Equanimity. Eventually, you want to feel like Equanimity is your default mindstate both on and off the cushion. Of course nothing stay constant, but in general you become more and more in tune with the sense that, in some way, things are fine even if the current moment is a real challenge. 

When you get to equanimity, just soak in it and feel yourself letting go of your habitual problems. You don't need to do anything, worry about anything, you don't need to fix anything.... Ahhhh, relax....

When things get into the High Equanimity realm -- which is a kind of confusing yet concentrated state --  try to see where experiences come from, try to see where thoughts come from, try to see if you can notice the very next thought, try to find what is observing experience. All of these should be gentle, curious questions, not something so heavy handed that it stops the organic flow of experience. (What is this? Where is this? Where does it come from? I wonder what my next thought will be? Etc.)

Hope this helps!

RE: Stagnating on the Path?
Answer
4/2/16 1:31 PM as a reply to Gabriel.
Gabriel:
1. Little to no concentration. I note a few obvious phenomenon, then wander off, then note, then wander ...


Hi, Gabriel, I got good results from six days of purely concentration meditation, followed by one day of "just sitting" meditation. You might feel drawn to try that. Full account in chapter 13 of my story https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/567671

RE: Stagnating on the Path?
Answer
4/2/16 9:23 PM as a reply to Derek.
@Derek:

Re-reading parts of you're book now, Derek.  Thanks for writing it!

RE: Stagnating on the Path?
Answer
4/2/16 9:40 PM as a reply to Noah.
You're welcome. I think I "reinvented the wheel" a bit. That pattern of getting a good base in concentration going first is found in several traditions. Anyway, the chapter I mentioned includes a description of the effects it had for me.

RE: Stagnating on the Path?
Answer
4/4/16 10:42 AM as a reply to shargrol.
Thanks so much for all these responses, your support is highly motivating!
I would basically recommend keep doing what you are doing, but try to catch yourself earlier when you hit the difficult stages and try to be more objective about it. (Oh, this is what it feels like when the mind thinks it is stuck. Oh, this is what it is like when the mind wants to escape. Oh, this is the flow of the mindstream. Oh, this is my mind trying to judge my practice. Oh, this is the mind wanting to change practice methods. Etc.) As Robert is pointing out, everything should be noticed/objectified in experience, especially things that seem to be me or mine or I --- especially "my problem".

Very sound advice. I often get stuck in the difficult stages, and trying to include the mind's reactions as phenomena to be witnessed seems to get me "out of it" quicker. When I'm in darker stages, I find it easy to get stuck and to keep focusing on dark phenomena without seeing the bigger picture. I guess that's common.

I'll update this when further progress is achieved! 

RE: Stagnating on the Path?
Answer
4/4/16 6:28 PM as a reply to Gabriel.
The trick is to both see the big picture while also letting the experience really be felt intimately. Sometimes we try to deny the actual experience by just thinking about what it "means" while pushing away the experience. Often trying to get through it quicker makes things more sticky, so if anything emphasize "fully experiencing". Of course, sometimes we get way to wrapped up in what it is and we confuse sensations with "me" (I am miserable, for example. Actually, "I am aware of misery" is closer to the truth). The sweet spot is having both views at the same time, noticing the details of each tree yet knowing that the whole thing is a forest. Feel and know the sensations while also understanding the nana.

None of the dark night sensations or moods are "bad" in any way... they are legitimate biological mechanisms that are wired into us... It makes sense to go into lazy dissolution after a peak A&P experience, it makes sense to have fear when we realize thingsare beyond our control, and it makes sense to believe that's a miserable way for life to be, of course that leads to disgust and a desire to be delivered from the situation, but desire for deliverance is just a fantasy and meanwhile the reality of all of our personal "trigger" problems are reobserved as being much more real than any fantasy... but in each of these cases, these moods can be seen as moods, seeing nanas as nanas, and there is a way to just allow them to be. Equanimity is equanimity with >anything< that arises. Over time, we see it's possible to be equanimous with fear, misery, even reobservation (wow, look at my mind completely freaking out!). 

When you travel through the nanas enough times, then they have less of an ability to seduce you and make you think it >is< you. Being curious about what is aware of all of this will carry you through the nanas, though equanimity and high equanimity, and into Stream Entry.

Good luck and best wishes for your practice!

RE: Stagnating on the Path?
Answer
9/19/16 6:50 PM as a reply to Gabriel.
Hey!

It's been a while since I updated this thread. My practice since then has been somewhat irregular, but has increased a lot recently. 
In the last week or so, I've been hitting what I believe to be the EQ nana consistently and rapidly. I navigate through the nanas quickly, and can remain in EQ for most of my sits.

I seemed to go back and forth between High EQ (a strangely clear, spacey and concentrated state in which phenomena merge into a vibrating flux, and subtle stuff like "space", "time", "expecting", "searching", "sense of watching" can be noticed naturally) and Mid-Low EQ (a chill and pleasant state in which I tend to wander off easily).

In the last week I've had several events that I thought were "it", but in doubt I continued to practice. However, I suspect I may have it stream entry today. I've had a weird "blip out", followed by a wave of vibrations. I've tried repeating the experience, and it seemed to be reoccuring, and throwing me back at A&P(?) each time.

The predominent experience in High EQ and A&P is vibrations, but somehow they are more crisp and specific in A&P than in High EQ, in which vibrations are inclusive and diffuse. I immediately get pretty clear vibrations all over my body when I sit, but that's happened to me before, on retreats or when practicing intensely.

I'm still unsure about this claim. I could be deluding myself. However, something does seem to have changed, in a way that differs from previous "EQ afterglows".

I'll just keep practicing (I'll be putting in at least 3-4 hours/day of formal sitting for a few more days) and see what happens! 

Is there any "foolproof" way of testing where I'm at?

Thanks again!

RE: Stagnating on the Path?
Answer
9/19/16 7:12 PM as a reply to Gabriel.
There's no foolproof way, but everything you are saying sounds good! Usually, the biggest change is strong/clear jhanas and having A&P vibrations as soon as you start meditating. There can also be a sense that you "know" the territory of first path and are now "reviewing" it in your sits. It should be clear if you keep sitting for the next few days.

RE: Stagnating on the Path?
Answer
9/21/16 7:20 AM as a reply to Gabriel.
If you get fruit or taste what would let you skip practice in order to get that same thing, its a success. First we get a glimpse of it, that puts us on a path- we know what to follow.

And the way you undertand it or how you get that or grasp the entire process and more, is a view. Once you have view then all experiences are equal under the view, things are fullfilling themselves, if you sleeping or dreaming even then you "meditate" if your view is that encompassing. If you don't penetrate that far, i mean you need to really grasp it otherwise you maybe bypassing.

quote in sutra or somewhere i recall, a mother when having a enlightened baby in belly, mother is a lot smarter.