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Mike's Practice Log
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12/5/16 12:10 AM
My first post here and I'd really appreciate any feedback. I’m in my late-60’s and have been trying to work out what is going on for six or seven years. I live in a fairly isolated rural area where opportunities for organised spiritual inquiry are zero. Suffice to say I've done a lot of reading and thinking about a wide range of topics to do with "what's going on?". Inevitably, I've stumbled down too-many dead-ends!

I had read about the Buddha, but only superficially because it all seemed very formal and structured around temples, monks and lineages – none of which were accessible to me, and which mostly seemed to cost quite a lot. It was only this year, when it dawned upon me (after reading the Surangama sutra) that the Buddha was a pretty good teacher and that the teachings directly attributed to him were aimed at helping people practically experience things as they really were rather than through the mind’s lenses of perception, bias and ignorance. This “insight” made me realise that, while I could understand through learning the theory, I could only “see” what the mind was up to through direct investigation – and that seemed to point me to meditation. I had avoided meditation because it seemed very “new age, touchy-feely” and taught by sweet young things wearing lycra who insisted that everyone shared their feelings and “opened up to the universe”. To mercifully relieve me of my ignorance, about a month ago I stumbled upon this forum, jhanas and MCTB.
 
Actually, I now wonder whether I had stumbled upon what I now know to be the jhanas some years ago when learning reiki. At one point in that training, I reached a point of complete failure – I could neither go forward nor back. I was stuck, and at a point of complete despair and giving up when out of the blue an energy wave moved throughout my body. It felt like nothing I had ever experienced before and was breathtakingly, incomprehensibly rapturous. To my dismay it eventually went, but thereafter I found that I was able to re-experience it whenever I was lying down, still, tranquil and focussed on my abdomen. If I kept my focus on the tingling that arose, it would eventually erupt in an at-times bodily contorting way before settling down to quieter waves of bliss. If I kept a quiet focus on those waves, they would then subside to a background feeling of quiet but intensely-pleasurable bliss that could be sustained for quite a long time. Anyway, as I didn’t know what it was, it never occurred to me that it could be spiritually significant in any way, and not knowing where it could lead to, I never thought to “cultivate” or formally practice them in any way. That ignorance means that I probably wasted some five or six years!
 
But at least, after reading various threads on this site, then buying MCTB, I was able to “join the dots” and realise that I had possibly met the jhanas before (even if I didn’t know them by that name) and I was now certainly able to appreciate their significance. The beauty of MCTB, in my opinion is that it provides a “no bullshit road map” that lifts individual practice from the haphazard to the potentially life-changing.
 
For the last two weeks, I have been focussing on concentration meditation and experimenting with how to achieve “access” concentration. I have found that a gentle focussing on the breath can get me there, but so too does my previous practice of maintaining a light focus on the abdomen. Today, sitting for an hour and focussing on the abdomen I experienced the “boom crash opera” as the energy erupted and surged throughout the body before settling down to a less intense but very pleasurable background bliss that seemed self-sustaining - until by focussing on this state of pleasure it deepened to a still, deeply-quiet and spacious space where there was no thought-stream although there was certainly a knowing that the space existed and that it was of a “knowing” nature. What didn’t exist was any concept of a boundary around this space, nor any concept of the dimensions of the space. There was a knowing that an “I” was there but that the “I” was not separate from the space, and absolutely no knowing that this “I” concept had a body with legs, arms and a head. The fact that any sense of a conventional “me” had gone was quite OK and certainly not of concern. Funnily enough there was still a knowing of a slight presence of breathing and there was an awareness (albeit very muffled) of the sound of passing traffic. If I focussed on the internal light display, it was phasing in and out but unmoving.
 
I’d appreciate feedback, both on what was experienced and also on the way forward. Many thanks

Mike

RE: Mike's Practice Log
Answer
12/6/16 7:50 PM as a reply to Phaedrus.
Hey Mike,

Glad to see another guy on the site who is at least in his 50s. 

Your experience sounds pretty jhana-like to me.


Jeff

RE: Mike's Practice Log
Answer
12/6/16 11:38 PM as a reply to Phaedrus.
Hi Mike,

I first would look at the two sides of Buddhism. Once side is disenchantment which is good in doses but can be too much. The other side is enchantment where you look at everything is essentially okay. You use both so that you have conventional happiness in life but with some discernment. Too much enchantment means addictiveness and a lack of self-care and discernment. Too much disenchantment can lead to huge amounts of repressed sexual urges and anger urges to the point that you feel ill. I would recommend starting with Thanissaro Bhikkhu to get the disenchantment part done. He's got lots of free resources with his evening and morning talks with lots of gold strewn in talks throughout the way.

http://www.dhammatalks.org/mp3_index.html

His student who broke off from him went into later Buddhist practices (Rob Burbea). He has two retreats in particular that honour what is in Buddhism but then goes onto enchantment and Jungian active imagination. You honour the impulses that come out and learn to love imperfection to loosen and thaw out more tension that might still be stuck in a disenchantment practice. A lot of people feel like their self is just slowly dying if they only do disenchantment practices. At a certain point in a person's practice they find it okay to have some dukkha because it's not all engulfing at this point in an advanced practice.

http://dharmaseed.org/retreats/1044/?page=1
Emptiness retreat

http://dharmaseed.org/retreats/3049
Re-enchanting the Cosmos: The Poetry of Perception

Especially look at this guided meditation as a sample of enchantment practice:
http://dharmaseed.org/teacher/210/talk/37008/
Hearing all sounds as Mantra: A Jewelline World 

This older guided meditation has a similar quality to the above:
http://dharmaseed.org/teacher/210/talk/9813/
Welcoming

Now I still recommend people go far in the disenchantment practices but with a strong enjoyment of basic concentration to prevent too many withdrawal symptoms. 

If you want to get into jhanas it's more about sticking with it and relaxing all tension throughout the skull and body. As you do this your intuition will pop up with daydreams and your goal is to gently return to the breath relentlessly. Try not to use a fight or flight response to stop a fight or flight response.

The intuition that interrupts is always looking for an addictive object to put interest in. It's a form of resistance. In psychology it's known that dopamine rises more when you have anticipation of a reward than the actual achievement of the reward. It's why people can surf the net with lots of boredom but still keep going because of the anticipation of "maybe the next button or page will be more interesting?" Or people keep going on the slot machine losing over and over again because "maybe the next one is a jackpot"? It's called intermittent reinforcement. Small rewards that happen unexpectedly make a person persist with distraction longer than they should because they are stuck in expectation. All the reinforcements we've had throughout our lives are going to interrupt your meditation. Bring yourself back to the breath and reward yourself with a particularly enjoyable breath to keep going. As you notice stressful mental movements and muscles tightening try to see if you can ask yourself "how can I do less of that?" As you create less stress and keep letting go of those intuition interruptions, the brain will eventually stop interrupting at a certain level leading to a jhana experience. It's less about doing and more about letting go and doing less (what they call fabrication) and letting the jhana appear more uncovered. Your breath will become more shallow as you manipulate the breath less as you go up the jhanas. Concentration is integral to insight because the insight leads to withdrawal symptoms if you don't give your addictive brain something interesting to enjoy, like progressively more comfortable breaths.

The insight is to see that any mental movement (intention to pay attention) to keep a jhana or to leave a jhana has some stress so you drop intentionality all together and go into nirvana. This of course requires at least the 1st jhana and with many people they think you need all 8 and then drop intention.

Okay that's a lot to chew on so please take your time and don't rush it. 

Have fun!

RichardZen

RE: Mike's Practice Log
Answer
12/7/16 6:07 AM as a reply to Phaedrus.
Mike, sounds like a classic example of what is called vipassina jhana, where you have both the rapture and the knowing/discerning mind. Big energy releases are often the Arising and Passing experience.

As you can tell from past experience, the "progress of insight" stages can occur outside of retreat conditions, especially if someone is doing very gentle yet attentive activities like Reiki. Sounds like in the past you were moving through a difficult stage, probably similar to Three Characteristics, and then became concentrated and moved into Arising and Passing. 

If you have read MCTB, then you also know that after big openings comes difficult stages, characterized by lazy Dissolution and the "dark night" stages of Fear, Disgust, Misery, Desire for Deliverance, and Reobservation. Off retreat, these things can "tint" your day to day life, so just be aware that if you find yourself to be moody after big spiritual experiences, it's a very common thing. Hang in there and use the moodyness to investigate all the ways that you cling to thoughts and feelings and forms of identity, while recognizing that life is always in flux and there isn't one thing that is constant except your participation and knowing of experience. That knowing is what can help see you through all your sense of limitations and reactive patterns. When reactivity arises, it both happens and you know it. Why not identify with the knowing rather that the old reactive patterns that seem to arise and pass on their own?

That's a lot of quick background. What are your hopes for meditation practice?

In general, gentle and consistent practice tends to be like physical exercise for the psyche. It gets broken up a little by the natural investigation that occurs during sitting, but then it seems to re-integrate during the day as a "cleaner" form of identity/self. It's a bit of a paradox, though, because to get the "cleanness" you have to spend lots of time making friends with all the yucky stuff in mind and body. So it's a lot of hard work, not necessarily brutally hard, but more of a long slog where you have to keep a consistent practice otherwise things will backslide. It's worth recognizing that up front. Meditation creates change over time, but you definitely need to do the work. "Perhaps better not to start, but if started, best to finish."

RE: Mike's Practice Log
Answer
12/10/16 4:20 AM as a reply to Phaedrus.
@Jeff. Thank you. Being older has the advantage of sharpening my focus somewhat!
 
@RichardZen. Really appreciate the detailed advice you have given and will check out all of the links you provided. I can see that an “enchantment only” focus in practice could be endlessly addictive while too strong/long a focus on disenchantment might run the risk revealing of negative tendencies . Yet my gut feeling is that the gold is in the latter. Your suggestion of as an emphasis on insight practices alleviated with concentration practices is the way I plan to go. That way I might reveal gold and also have a few fun experiences!! I plan to continue concentration practices first to the point where my ability to “focus like a pit bull” is established and my passage into the jhanas is predictable – and then I will start working on insight. Your comment on dropping intentionality resonates. As an aside, I understand that it is a "good thing" to state an intention before commencing each sit - but I prefer to simply see what happens.
 
@Shargrol. One phrase in your comments resonated a lot – “gentle consistency” I have certainly passed through periods of being moody, in despair, angry and intensely reactive. In MCTB, there is a comment about the compassion found within anger, and my experiences would certainly bear that out. Negative stuff eventually passes! I know that insight practices will probably re-awaken some yucky stuff, but I feel better-equipped now to deal with that. You asked about my practice – and that is ordered around that word “consistency”. I'm currently sitting each morning for about an hour and again each night for an hour. What are my hopes for meditation practice? I hope for two experiential outcomes: first, to experience my true nature, stripped of attachment to form; and second, to experience the true nature of the formed and formless realities. Sound achievable?

In the week since I wrote my first post I wasted too much time doubting whether my experiences were, in fact jhanic. Your replies have reassured me and so, with renewed confidence I will continue. I will aim to write a weekly entry to this log consolidating what happened (and what didn't) over the last week and what I hope will happen over the following seven days

Mike

PS cannot work out how to post a new entry in this thread without using the "reply" button (which is what I have done). If when I press "publish, this entry sits indented under my first post, I have done the wrong thing and would appreciate knowing how I should have done it!. However, if this entry sits underneath all other posts in this thread, then I have accidentally done the right thing - in which case, we can all relax!

RE: Mike's Practice Log
Answer
12/10/16 4:22 AM as a reply to Phaedrus.
Yahoo!! Did the right thing!emoticon All is well with the world

RE: Mike's Practice Log
Answer
12/10/16 5:44 PM as a reply to Phaedrus.
Phaedrus:
@Shargrol. One phrase in your comments resonated a lot – “gentle consistency” I have certainly passed through periods of being moody, in despair, angry and intensely reactive. In MCTB, there is a comment about the compassion found within anger, and my experiences would certainly bear that out. Negative stuff eventually passes! I know that insight practices will probably re-awaken some yucky stuff, but I feel better-equipped now to deal with that. You asked about my practice – and that is ordered around that word “consistency”. I'm currently sitting each morning for about an hour and again each night for an hour. What are my hopes for meditation practice? I hope for two experiential outcomes: first, to experience my true nature, stripped of attachment to form; and second, to experience the true nature of the formed and formless realities. Sound achievable?

In the week since I wrote my first post I wasted too much time doubting whether my experiences were, in fact jhanic. Your replies have reassured me and so, with renewed confidence I will continue. I will aim to write a weekly entry to this log consolidating what happened (and what didn't) over the last week and what I hope will happen over the following seven days

Very good plan! Sounds good. For what it's worth, it's good to have a short-term goal related to your practice and state it clearly before sitting. "I resolve to x, y, z during this sit for the benefit of all beings." etc. Best wishes! 

RE: Mike's Practice Log
Answer
12/19/16 1:47 AM as a reply to Phaedrus.
The sits this last week were regular enough, but the outcomes were a bit haphazard. Mostly, I'm managing around an hour each morning and night and mostly remember to establish a formal goal for each session. I can achieve an OK focus to begin with (even if it takes too long to manifest) and unless I'm really tired, can notice that tingle in the body which indicates to me that the first jhana sis not too far away. But too often that heightened sense/expectation  seems to fade away. This morning, however, when waking up, and without any expectation the first jhana arrived with a bang and fifteen minutes or so later, the waves of bliss were still rolling through. How come?

All that I have read has mentioned the importance of access concentration, the need to establish a regular breath pattern, good posture and a tranquil mindset. I'm wondering whether it's of main importance for my body to be completely without tension (which it can only be if my mind is also completely at ease) and for both of these factors (mind and body) to be present before those tingles will naturally arise. I have also wondered about the phrase "access concentration" during the week and whether I have too deliberately set out to achieve it. This morning, there was no effort to achieve and state of concentration, rather a light noticing of what had manifested (the tingling sensation). That was all that was required. In hindsight, I believe that I was trying too hard during the week to force things by trying to achieve access concentration, by sitting and breathing "in the approved manner" and focussing too hard on those tingling sensations once they started to arise. So for the coming week, the goal is to notice rather than concentrate. I now understand why some choose a reclining posture for meditation - even though a recliner is pretty much guaranteed to put me to sleep. Any thoughts?

I have finished reading MCTB and am going through it again, picking up things I don't remember from the first read. All good

Mike

RE: Mike's Practice Log
Answer
12/19/16 2:46 PM as a reply to Phaedrus.
Most of the time we experience new cutting edges simply by the continuity of practice. So it isn't so much "what am I doing to get here?" but rather "wow, doing something every day sure makes a difference!"

Yes, good to balance effort and relaxation. By the way, I'm not aware of any need to control the pattern of breathing. Mostly the breath should be watched to see what kind of breathing the body does itself. Interestingly, there isn't much actual meditation instruction in the pali cannon, but the little that is there is more about noticing how breathing occurs, not regimenting the breathing. Just let the body breath and observe it curiously, as if you are facinated in how it will turn out.

http://plumvillage.org/sutra/discourse-on-the-full-awareness-of-breathing/

O bhikkhus, the full awareness of breathing, if developed and practiced continuously, will be rewarding and bring great advantages. It will lead to success in practicing the Four Establishments of Mindfulness. If the method of the Four Establishments of Mindfulness is developed and practiced continuously, it will lead to success in the practice of the Seven Factors of Awaking. The Seven Factors of Awakening, if developed and practiced continuously, will give rise to understanding and liberation of the mind.

“What is the way to develop and practice continuously the method of Full Awareness of Breathing so that the practice will be rewarding and offer great benefit?

“It is like this, bhikkhus: the practitioner goes into the forest or to the foot of a tree, or to any deserted place, sits stably in the lotus position, holding his or her body quite straight, and practices like this: ‘Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.’

1. ‘Breathing in a long breath, I know I am breathing in a long breath. Breathing out a long breath, I know I am breathing out a long breath.

2. ‘Breathing in a short breath, I know I am breathing in a short breath. Breathing out a short breath, I know I am breathing out a short breath.

3. ‘Breathing in, I am aware of my whole body. Breathing out, I am aware of my whole body.’ He or she practices like this.

4. ‘Breathing in, I calm my whole body. Breathing out, I calm my whole body.’ He or she practices like this.

5. ‘Breathing in, I feel joyful. Breathing out, I feel joyful.’ He or she practices like this.

6. ‘Breathing in, I feel happy. Breathing out, I feel happy.’ He or she practices like this.

7. ‘Breathing in, I am aware of my mental formations. Breathing out, I am aware of my mental formations.’ He or she practices like this.

8. ‘Breathing in, I calm my mental formations. Breathing out, I calm my mental formations.’ He or she practices like this.

9. ‘Breathing in, I am aware of my mind. Breathing out, I am aware of my mind.’ He or she practices like this.

10. ‘Breathing in, I make my mind happy. Breathing out, I make my mind happy.’ He or she practices like this.

11. ‘Breathing in, I concentrate my mind. Breathing out, I concentrate my mind.’ He or she practices like this.

12. ‘Breathing in, I liberate my mind. Breathing out, I liberate my mind.’ He or she practices like this.

13. ‘Breathing in, I observe the impermanent nature of all dharmas. Breathing out, I observe the impermanent nature of all dharmas.’ He or she practices like this.

14. ‘Breathing in, I observe the disappearance of desire. Breathing out, I observe the disappearance of desire.’ He or she practices like this.

15. ‘Breathing in, I observe the no-birth, no-death nature of all phenomena. Breathing out, I observe the no-birth, no-death nature of all phenomena.’ He or she practices like this.

16. ‘Breathing in, I observe letting go. Breathing out, I observe letting go.’ He or she practices like this.

“The Full Awareness of Breathing, if developed and practiced continuously according to these instructions, will be rewarding and of great benefit.”