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Newb trying to find his orientation along the Dharma path

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I'd like to ask a couple questions (marked *), and in doing so, introduce myself as well. Just came across DhO for the first time a few days ago, and the copy I ordered of MCTB hasn't arrived yet, so forgive me if these (basic) questions have been answered a million times. Pointing me to prior posts or material to read instead of taking the time to answer is completely suitable. Thanks.
 
* First, if I have the goal of attaining Stream Entry, what's a realistic amount of practice to maintain?
 
For reference, I'm 33 years old and have been practicing twice a day for a total of between 75 - 150 minutes a day, everyday, since I began meditating at the end of June 2016.
 
Assuming I keep this practice up for the rest of my life, and I live at least several more decades, is this a reasonable "rate" of practice to give me *opportunity* to achieve Stream Entry? Also note that I plan on attending retreats regularly--my first four-day retreat is in November, and I have a 10-day Goenka retreat schedule in January.
 
(Obviously Stream Entry is not guaranteed and there's a billion variables and individuality to consider. Just need to know whether I should ultimately be, as a lay person, dedicating even more time--like three hours of meditation/day.)
 
* Based on my limited understanding of the DhO material I've read (e.g. wiki, few posts), it appears I've been bouncing between A&P and the Dark Night most of my life. How does one break this cycle and move forward into equanimity instead?
 
Again, for reference, a bit of personal background. I was diagnosed with depression and bipolar as a teenager and have been on meds my entire adult life. Been "stable" for half a decade now after a particularly Dark Night period. Also, I'm a "Highly Sensitive Person."
 
Had a few odd experiences in my youth. Around 10, I had an extremely specific dream and awoke to find that the situation in the dream was playing out in real life. I was able to become involved in the situation and aid in a way and knew things that resolved the situation, that would have been impossible for anyone, had I not dreamt exactly what was happening and how it would "play out."
 
Another experience: I had chronic severe migraines most of my early teenage years. One night when I was 16, and had a migraine, I decided to focus on the migraine as intently and narrowly as I could. Suddenly a very hot or cold sensation (can't remember) exploded at base of my skull and traveled partly down the top of my spine. The migraine disappeared and they've never come back. At the time I literally thought perhaps an aneurism had popped in my brain.
 
Those two questions are it for now.
 
As for the status of my current practice, I've been practicing anapansati at the abdomen and experiencing intermittent piti since after one month of practice.

Probably half a dozen times now, I've gotten these short (5 - 15 minute) rapturous, blissful, immersive, all-pervasive light experiences, like I'm basking in radiant blazing sunlight, or have been drugged with some heavy, euphoric sedative. After those experiences I'll have an hour of two of "afterglow" where I feel an unusually high level of general tranquility.

Or sometimes (happening more often lately--maybe a couple times a week) I'll feel these super-rapid bursts of vibrations emanating from my chest and out through my limbs, or sometimes just in my head as expanding and contracting pulses.

I've read about "seeing through" your eyelids, too, and have had this distinct experience several times when I first started meditating a few months ago. Amazing to find others have experienced the same things.

And this last week, most days, when I focus on my abdomen for a few moments during daily activity, I get this wobbling, pulsing, or shaking sensation emanating from the bottom of my spine. It's kind of like my upper body is vibrating back and forth, once to a degree that my wife even noticed it.

Any and all feedback (e.g. "you sure like to talk about yourself! emoticon") welcome. Thanks!

RE: Newb trying to find his orientation along the Dharma path
Answer
10/9/16 6:31 PM as a reply to Chris O..
Chris:
 
* First, if I have the goal of attaining Stream Entry, what's a realistic amount of practice to maintain?
 
* Based on my limited understanding of the DhO material I've read (e.g. wiki, few posts), it appears I've been bouncing between A&P and the Dark Night most of my life. How does one break this cycle and move forward into equanimity instead?
 


It depends on the person, but something in the range 1 to 7 years is about right for SE. Ironically, it doesn't take a lot of practice, but it does take >good< practice. It's not about time on the cushion (although that helps) it's about being clear-minded enough to notice and note.

The way the cycle is broken is by seeing mind state objectively, as mind states. So when dark night mind states come, it requires seeing them as mind states rather than self. So when the big experiences of rapture, bliss, and light are experienced, you note rapture, bliss, and light. When lazy dissolution happens, you note laziness. When fear and terror happen, you note fear and terror. When misery happens, you note misery. When disgust happens, you note disgust. When desire for relief and hope for deliverance happens, you note desire for relief and desire for deliverance. When all your buttons are being pushed, when you are completely reactive, you note buttons being pushed, reactivity, etc. When you feel like things break and there is relief and equanimity, you note relief and equanimity. It really is as simple as noticing mind states and noting them as they occur. There will be a natural progression that seems like things getting worse (the dark night states and reobservation) but then things break and they get better (equanimity).

The whole point is to see mind states as mind states. If you see mind states, then you are not the mind states. This gives you objectivity and the ability to have a little distance between you and what you assumed was your suffering. In that little distance a basic sanity grows, you know just that because you are having a bad day, it is a bad day, no big deal. It sound simple, and it is. Just takes some practice, that's it.

Best wishes!



RE: Newb trying to find his orientation along the Dharma path
Answer
10/9/16 8:25 PM as a reply to Chris O..
+1 to everything Shargrol said.  

I would add that there are a lot of inspiring and informative resources for pragmatic dharma.  

Also, if you are practicing well, and in high doses, then the only thing I would add that you might not hear from others is to consider taking on an imaginative/devotional/intentional component to your practice.  The seeds of doubt and insecurity can be psychically sown deeper into heart-mind than what we have access to at the level of attention-speed or Vipassana.  However, there are many practices which help to get around this by using magick to accelerate your progress, and untie subconscious knots indirectly.  I would highly reccomend exploring one of these options, and can provide resources if that would be helpful.  

RE: Newb trying to find his orientation along the Dharma path
Answer
10/10/16 1:35 AM as a reply to Chris O..
Chris:
the copy I ordered of MCTB hasn't arrived yet

Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, an Unusually Hardcore
Dharma Book, by Daniel Ingram, EXPANDED VERSION: meaning, that some DhO
members have made additional links, comments, etc.

There you go....start reading
Or you can download it in pdf from here -
Chris:
* First, if I have the goal of attaining Stream Entry, what's a realistic amount of practice to maintain?
 
been practicing twice a day for a total of between 75 - 150 minutes a day, everyday
Sounds great....that should do it.....its variable for each person but this is a great start....it's about consistancy and getting to your cutting edge each time....then spending whatever amount of time pushing into new territory. If it takes 150 minutes to get to your cutting edge...the you need more. If you can get there in 30 minutes, you are spending a good amount of time on progress.
 
Chris:
* Based on my limited understanding of the DhO material I've read (e.g. wiki, few posts), it appears I've been bouncing between A&P and the Dark Night most of my life. How does one break this cycle and move forward into equanimity instead?
 
Consistant practice. Each time you get to EQ you may slide back, stay there, move forward, start over.
It usually takes a few cycles up to EQ before you really make progress thru EQ into high EQ.
Good Luck,
~D

RE: Newb trying to find his orientation along the Dharma path
Answer
10/12/16 9:54 AM as a reply to Chris O..
Thank you all—shargrol, Noah, Dream Walker—for your thoughtful replies! Much appreciate getting some outside calibration!

Regarding time committment to practice, sounds like my current mode—aiming for two 1-hr+ sessions per day—is reasonable, so long as I'm not shying away from—an even pushing through a bit of—the zone toward the end of sessions where I can feel my mindfulness weakening.

It's comforting to hear that "the way the cycle is broken is by seeing mind state objectively, as mind states." Knowing we're not our thoughts is a radically simple idea that's so liberating and immediately reasonated. Learning not to identify with mind activity/mental states was something Eckhart Tolle's work first introduced to me, recently, before I looked further in Buddhism and the Dharma specifically. Pivoting from "I'm angry" or rehearsing a future event to "[there is] anger [in this body and mind]" or "[there is] planning [occuring in this mind]" is very natural, thankfully.

Regarding magick, the experience at age 10 and a couple experiences on mushrooms in college have shown me there's more than meets the eye to supposedly-local "consciousness." I spoke with Edd on Skype about cultivating better concentration and investigating energy systems (vs. only dry insight) to explore this avenue. We'll see what happens.

Noah, please do reply or message me with any suggestions you have. Right now I'm dedicating some time to 1) investigate my vibrational manifestations of piti and 2) develop more one-pointed concentration for "hard" jhanas. I seem to have hit a wall by using the abdomen for concentration—have been able to attain the first two sutta-level samatha jhanas (e.g. Leigh B's definition) but not the first all-absorbing Visuddhimagga-level samadhi jhanas (e.g. Pa Auk Sayadaw or Ajahn Brahm).

Lastly, appreciate the links to the book! Have started reading! emoticon

Take care,
Chris

RE: Newb trying to find his orientation along the Dharma path
Answer
10/12/16 12:41 AM as a reply to Chris O..
Chris O:
"Noah, please do reply or message me with any suggestions you have."

In terms of having an imaginative or magickal component to practice, I use the Spiritual Mind Treatment.  I also like Michael Beckwith's Visioning practice.  There are also examples from the Western esoteric tradition, such as this guide to Chaos Magick.  Even affirmations from the self-help movement or old school Christian prayer can work very well.  All of these practices involve faith, confidence, or trust.  This translates to a sense of knowing that what you wish for is already done.  This is delusion, but it is also simply a part of the mechanics of the technique.

A couple pointers.  Make it a structured practice.  This could involve ritual in the sense of external preparation, or simply choosing to do it internally at a specific time of day.  Choose a frequency that is not too often and not too spread apart (maybe once every 3 days).  You could ask for a specific goal, such as SE or hard 1st jhana, but this might cause hindrance in the form of expectation, scripting, or self-criticism when it doesn't happen.  The safest thing to wish for is "the highest possible expression of my spiritual practice, at this time."

Longevity is also very important.  Say the prayer (or other form) at least twice a week for six months.  It takes time for psychic momentum to build, but the growth does snowball.  Whatever you do, never skip saying the prayer.  Especially when things get better, your mind will want to.  Say it anyway.