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Gerald's scratchpad

Gerald's scratchpad
Answer
4/22/17 10:50 AM
It's been on my mind a while to start some kind of journal. I've been lurking here for a while, even before creating a username for myself, so I figure I can actually contribute something that may be interesting to read for others.
Reading stuff from others on here has at times been helpful, so just maybe writing down my own experiences and/or ramblings may prove useful for others as well.

I have been practicing for the better part of three years, mainly noting practices, but shifting to more general awareness and fostering awareness of 'whatever stuff seems to be happening in whatever location it seems to be happening' kind of practice lately.
I began practicing through a mix of fascination with alternate mind states and depression. I had a pretty bad period in terms of family life throughout puberty, causing a lot of psychological stuff to be pretty deeply embedded in my mind. Practice as a result has been a mix of figuring out stuff, and figuring out errors with regards to the perception of said stuff.

A few years ago, I think it was in 2012 or so, I was interested in drugs and altered states of mind. Read a lot about psychonaut stuff, did some drugs with friends, trying to figure out a way to escape the dissatisfaction I felt in life.
Eventually, this led me to pick up some kind of meditation practice. At first, mostly concentration and trying to see cool things happening with visual perception, not at all related to insight in any way.
By chance I stumbled upon MCTB and read through most of it. At the time I had no real idea what this was all about, and formed some pretty nonsensical ideas about the results of the practice.

During this time I moved away from home to another country. This worked well to curb my, in retrospect pretty serious, addiction to drugs, as the conditions for usage were almost entirely removed.
After some time, I decided I should go on retreat and push hard to reach what-I-thought-to-be stream entry: a sense of presence with magic ponies and rainbows.
I went to do a 15 day noting retreat, and tried my best. My preoccupation with this magical state of mind that I so desperately wanted to reach, in combination with unhealthy amounts of analytical thoughtloops hindered me from progressing beyond re-observation at the time (or something close to this, I don't remember well enough), as I kept relating practice to what I thought it meant and how I thought it should work.

After this retreat I was somewhat disappointed, but a lot more realistic about practice. The idea of a magical fairyland was still firmly embedded, but at least the analytical thoughtloops proved to be very hindering to actually reaching this place, which was a good realisation in its own right.
So half a year passed, with me practicing a few hours a day in the style taught at the retreat. I decided to have another try and went to the same place, this time doing a 10 day retreat.
During the retreat I tried focussing moment to moment on whatever was happening.
Some strong emotions came up, especially during re-observation. A memory from the past, hauntingly vivid causing strong crying etc.
Near the end of the retreat I reached equanimity, noting whatever came up automatically without much effort.
My ears were ringing with something resembling tinnitus, an effect produced by concentration according to the teacher.
In the last few days of the retreat I felt like it was done. A strong image of the truthfulness of the four noble truths arose at some point, which seemed oh so true and oh so important. This feeling of 'its done' was in part due to my previously mentioned thought loops.
I don't actually recall specifics, but it had a lot to do with how I interpreted the meaning of exercises laid out for the final few days of the retreat.
I kept practicing anyway.
Then at the last evening, I was practicing still, according to the instruction. At around 11ish in the evening I felt sleepy and layed down for a bit.
Looking at the timer, I felt like I missed some passing of time, maybe 10 minutes or so.
Feeling like I must be sleepy, I went for a coffee to keep myself going throughout the night.
After the coffee, I wondered what was in it, because concentration peaked to a degree I had never experienced. Realising what had happened, I was filled with happiness and a feeling of rapture. Dancing through my room from happiness and joy, not being able to wait til morning when I could go outside and do... whatever.

The next few days I thought all my problems would be gone. Reality kicked in and proved me wrong after just 3 days.
Over the next few months, slowly the illusion with the magical fairyland would fade, and practicing would become more about figuring out how to actually deal with the reality of my situation.
I was very unhappy with my work situation, so I decided this might be a good moment to quit and focus more on practice for a while.
I kept working for half a year and went onto a number of retreats after stopping work. This was roughly 1.5 years ago now.

In the first retreat of that set, I struggled mostly with wanting another cessation. I noticed other people practicing, having bodily jerks, and being very jealous towards it. I wanted that too, I wanted to get cessation. At one session with the teacher, I was crying for feeling such jealousy towards another, generating such hatred towards a stranger just because he was experiencing what I wanted to experience.
Eventually, I focussed on practicing, equanimity followed, at which point the thought 'this bus is pretty much driving itself now' occured over and over. I think over the course of a weekend, half a dozen or so cessations happened, with different durations and sometimes very confusing experiences surrounding it.
Recognizing cessation became much easier at that point. Mostly realizing the drowsiness surrounding it, the absolute unavoidable need to close my eyes, the sharp concentration afterwards, and general confusing surrounding it. Not always the same, but the general pattern became clear.

In the next few retreats, this understanding deepened, and my fascination with cessation pretty much disappeared.
I decided to go back to work at the same place I worked before, having had my fill of practice for a while.
Meanwhile, I kept practicing until sometime last year. At some point I fell in love with someone, causing my mind to go into overdrive. Practicing was impossible at this point. The mental imaginery that I built up was too important to look at very deeply.
Deep seated issues wrt anxiety, feeling of not being worth enough and relations in general were popping up left and right. 
Even though I was not actively practicing, it was still a very good period to 'realign' mental images of how things should be vs how they actually were.

After a while, I found the need to start practicing again.
This time, whenever I practiced and during the day to day events, a strong aversion regarding the present would come up.
An almost unreal dissatisfaction with the moment as it was happening, fueled through images of a future I desperately wanted to reach.
I tried my best to practice with it and keep awareness with it outside of formal practice. This identification with the imagined future kept re-occuring time and time again.
At some point, I needed to take a trip to another country. It was a day full of travelling, something I'm usually quite excited about.
Yet during the day, everything felt wrong.
As I was waiting in the security line for the plane, I noticed all the people around, swimming in what I experienced as a field of misery.
Trying my best to be aware of it, it eventually was toned down, almost becoming background noise.
Still, whenever I saw someone walking, there was always something wrong. Fat people, fighting people, tired people, everything was just terrible, no positive quality to be found. 
At some time during this whole ordeal something interesting happened, where my mood shifted and all of 'external reality' shifted with it.
Suddenly, people were happy all around. I was walking around the airport smiling all the time, at how nice everything was in comparison.

While on the plane, I practiced a bit, and another cessation occured.
Afterwards, it felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulder and until this day I have yet to experience such strong misery as felt in those weeks.
I realised the type of misery was actually something that was with me since early childhood.
I remember it in detail, occuring again and again, yet it seems impossible to be caught up in it anymore.
Hints of this state sometimes pop up, but the catalyst to this state seems to be seen through in some way.

This leads me to my current practice. Hopefully I will be able to write something down about it soon and in greater detail when compared to this history of my practice. Due to how my memory seems to work, most details are lost and only general ideas and feelings about previous practice seem to remain.
This is part of why I want to keep a practice log at this point; to record more details and have a place to reference later on in practice.

RE: Gerald's scratchpad
Answer
4/23/17 4:07 PM as a reply to Gerald.
What an adventure, great story Gerald! Best wishes on your practice!

RE: Gerald's scratchpad
Answer
4/23/17 4:17 PM as a reply to Gerald.
Nice insights. Sorry if MCTB caused any confusion. Glad that good teachers and good practice were able to help. Jealous of body spasms: that's jealousy of early insight stages: Three Characteristics, the A&P, like being jealous of people in junior high school. ;) Thanks for your reports. Keep practicing!

RE: Gerald's scratchpad
Answer
4/23/17 8:20 PM as a reply to Gerald.
Paweł K:
Gerald:
After some time, I decided I should go on retreat and push hard to reach what-I-thought-to-be stream entry: a sense of presence with magic ponies and rainbows.

what makes you think this idea is wrong?
+1 but with the caveat that "stream entry" might not be the right term for 'magic ponies and rainbows.'  However, rapturous, nondual basellines way past the norm of what people reach and describe are absolutely possible.  Attaining to this release from some peripheral, nagging dissonance with reality (which you described well) is a very important foundation.  It makes it possible to really begin to explore all the aspects of the external sensory field in their full glory.  In short - it gets better and better!

RE: Gerald's scratchpad
Answer
4/24/17 3:25 AM as a reply to Gerald.
Paweł K:
Gerald:
After some time, I decided I should go on retreat and push hard to reach what-I-thought-to-be stream entry: a sense of presence with magic ponies and rainbows.

what makes you think this idea is wrong?

The idea I had at the time was wrong. I had a thought in my head that everything would be experienced very differently, that the nature of the experience would change itself.
Of course, things are much better now in comparison, but it was not like I imagined it to be.
I can still describe this state as a sense of presence with magic ponies and rainbows, but they're not the same ponies as I imaged before.

@Daniel
Very nice description of it. In the tradition I practiced in these spasm would occur both in the early stages and in the later stages (around late eq) I'm actually not 100% clear whether the actual physical spasms occur in the later stages, or its just the small gap in perception that causes it to feel like it does.
One of the teachers described this as 'touching nibbana' in the later stages.
My teacher at the time was laughing a bit at the whole thing, saying that I was desperate for nibbana, which in retrospect, I was.
At any rate, simply continuing practice is what helped the whole thing go forward, which is probably one of the best advices I took from MCTB.

@Noah
I recently had a great experience I would classify as such. The key to the whole thing seems to be the perception of the field of awareness, which holds everything in it.
I was surfing around a bit the other day and came across the following article:
http://transmissiononline.org/issue/awareness-as-existingness/article/meditation-as-becoming-aware-of-the-field-of-awareness

As I was reading the poem, something seemed to click about how things are actually experienced. I only have my memory to go by, as it seems to have passed, but it felt like everything I now perceive as external was simply awareness moving around. Seeing another person was just awareness moving towards the perception. Anxiety, what-ifs and other thoughts would also come into existence in this field, where awareness moved to. As if everything was an expression of mind in a way.
Unfortunately these ideas are not equal to the experience, and are not very useful beyond maybe staking out some ideas for future practice.

RE: Gerald's scratchpad
Answer
4/24/17 7:11 AM as a reply to Gerald.
That's awesome that you can see that!  Awareness practices are all about tricking your mind into a figure-ground reversal by resting into clarity.  There are various aspects of awareness that can be permanently "flipped."  

-the calmness that holds all thoughts 
-the panorama that holds all sights
-the silence between sounds
-a field of energy from which emotions arise 
-an ocean of touch/nerves from which physical sensations emerge 

DreamWalker describes it best: https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/5800908

RE: Gerald's scratchpad
Answer
8/16/17 6:01 AM as a reply to Gerald.
So, I've fallen of the wagon pretty much straight after opening this thread.
Things have been very bad from a solid practice point of view, and right now I don't really see how to pick myself back up and actually practice again.

Main things in my life the past months have been about wanting to do x, becoming y, and things like that. What do I really gain from practicing more? It doesn't look like I'm able to convince myself through arguments, even though I know it would be better to practice. Everything is just going along in some way I can't control, can't make sense of and quite frankly, I'm tired of thinking about it and forcing myself in one direction or another.

I don't really think this is solid progress in some way, it feels very mundane and kinda obvious. I have no idea what I'm going to feel like tonight, tomorrow, or next week and its incredibly frustrating to not being able to direct myself in a way towards what I think would be the right way to go. Instead I give in to lethargy, not even cleaning my stuff properly and just move from 'time waster' to 'time waster'.
Pacing around my apt, sometimes looking for things to do, sometimes doing nothing at all. I find it very hard to lose myself in any activity and genuinely enjoy something like I used to do.
Whatever I'm doing is always surrounded by a swarm of thoughts and feelings I can't make sense of. Sometimes positive, sometimes negative, but never just doing the activity and focussing on it.

Hopefully I'll be able to figure it out and report back later. Love you all emoticon

RE: Gerald's scratchpad
Answer
9/24/19 4:12 AM as a reply to Gerald.
It's been a while since updating. I've been reading this forum a bit again, so I want to give an update.
I didn't remember what I wrote last, I now see perhaps an update will be interesting to some who are in the same state as my previous post.

It seems things have kept on moving on, even though I've not done much sitting practice up until early this year. The seed was sown some time ago, so to speak, and thats the important thing.
I feel it was important for me to realize that the path is not linear. Early and late realizations are personal, subjective, and there is no telling what will show up, and in what manner. It feels like the practice itself is a bit upside down for me now, compared to how I was practicing a few years ago. Putting the carriage in front of the horse, that sort of thing. I hope you have had similar understandings.

After the previous post, things went from bad to worse. Around one year ago everything flipped around, but not in a good way. I got more and more involved in the spiritual side of things, numerology, alternate dimensions, etc. I would describe the experience, but unless someone has been in psychosis themselves it is probably hard to relate to. It is very strange to live in a state where you believe everything the mind tells you. And by everything, I mean this quite literally. To say it is hell is not really true, I would describe it closer to either heaven or hell, depending on what kind of story would be there. I would highly discourage anyone reading this from following that path; keep free from intoxicants. Really, I urge you to not let your guard down in that way in the way I have. I'm not trying to be cute, abstract or double in meaning here with my description either.

After that episode, things have slowly been improving. I've started practicing again in one form or another. The path has enveloped me, I would say, and I wish this purification of mind will not end any time soon.

It's pretty hard for me at this point to read a lot of the stuff that's talked about on the forum here. Or at least I'd rather not interact with most of it. Part of it is some kind of fear, which will hopefully dissipate over time. Like a bad habit emoticon

RE: Gerald's scratchpad
Answer
9/24/19 8:44 AM as a reply to Gerald.
As far as my current practice goes, its a little bit of a combination of things.
Formal practice is noting, cultivating non-attachment and seeing things as they come.

Informally, during day to day things, I have found it useful to cultivate concentration by trying to worship the present moment. I think it helps with taking away the harshness of just purely concentrating on what arises during the day, and gives everything a bit of a pleasant feeling of 'rightness'. I would describe it as exercising divinity (the feeling it causes). And since it serves concentration, I have seen no bad side effects. Seeing the present moment as perfect, yet evolving, has done a lot for my mental well being. It helps with cultivating trust in myself and others, so that things may get better over time.
I feel as this may be leveraging my Christian background/upbringing in some way to increase concentration.
Sometimes this is alternating with some noting.

I try to note when things are coming into my awareness which I know are not helpful for me. This includes all kind of cosmology, talk about what reality is, what it isn't. I have had an enormous interest in that sort of thing before, but clearly I can't handle that sort of thing anymore.