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Dharma Diagnostic Clinic, aka "What was that?"

Progress of insight and guidance for further practice

Hi all. This is my first post in Dharmaoverground.

Not sure In what category to post in but I think this might be the most appropriate one. I did have a talk with Daniel and he suggested that I should ask for help in Dharmaoverground. So here I am. I had quite some questions and little time as I spoke with Daniel (felt a little stressed due to personal scheduled events). So I am posting here and hopefully get some advice for my practice.

Below is the complete text I sent Daniel and some of the questions I got answered From Daniel (What stage I am at). I will be very greatful if someone experienced can answer my questions below. I am interested in knowing what I should do next in my practice

Letter start:

Hi Daniel. I really hope that you can read this rather lengthy mail and I will be very greatful if you could point me in the right direction in my practice. 

I have been on the spiritual path for many years now and as of the last 3 years i have been practicing vipassana (goenka style), and recently found out about your book and mahasi-style vipassana. The reason that I am writing this letter is that I would like to know if I am practicing and progressing correctly. The reason for that is that some experiences due to meditation had made it actually harder for me to practice as the technique requires.  

I wrote my questions in the end in case the story is too non vipassana-technique related (I know some teachers do not like to listen to long stories, but instead focus on applying the technique correctly). But I do think the events can be related to the progress of insight stages. 

Please forgive me for the long mail (lots of story) but I feel it is necessary in order to give proper context into my current practice and where I am at. The following paragraphs I talk about some other meditation technique than vipassana but that is solely for context. So please bear with me.

In the beginning of of my spiritual path I practiced something totally different from vipassana (but i do think that there are some similarities but that is probably off-topic). I was stydying/researching in South-Korea and met a meditation/martial arts teacher there. the thing was that I do not know Korean and the instructions that I got was from a translator that also trained with me and my teacher. I applied the technique which was about looking through all life events (requires thinking) of the past and feeling/sensing everything that arises. I must say that the technique worked well because some time later a specific event happened. It felt like a heavy weight in the heart dropped off and as a
result i felt extactically happy for a couple of days. It was sort of hard to get unlucky. All objects in the environments felt like they had a sense of freshness to them. This happiness lasted for up to around a week and after that time, issues that I had been struggling with in larger portion of my life: social and work related issues, they started to burden me again. I have had social issues for like I think at least 20 years of my life. After this event I can say that I got “hooked” to meditation and practiced very hard.

After a while I started the second stage of practice, which was very similar to the first stage where i have to look at my ego/personality through my past and sense all feelings that arises. As a result of this phase I got a strong sense of concentration and could feel sensations on my forehead area. I kept on practicing and lots of experiences happened like out-of-body like experiences happening (feeling sleep paralyzed and then was outside body at the same time linked to body energetically), seeing white light even though my eyes was closed, and maybe tens of times I have felt particle sensations going out of parts of the body. The last experience was always invoked when stronger mindfulness of the body arose while walking or when no thoughts (as I know of. Not entirely sure though) arise. This last experience always resulted in peace for as long the mindfulness lasted.

At this stage I was also extremely confused about whether I practiced the technique correctly. My teacher said that I should advance to the next stage if I feel that the mind is empty regarding the stages (stage one: past events. Stage two: ego/personality). The thing is that I felt that I could not sense any feelings and it felt as if I did something wrong with the technique. I asked my teacher through the translator and my teacher said that I should just continue practicing and I would eventually feel something. These thoughts and selfdoubt was not resolved and I felt that I did not get anywhere with the practice. I felt I did not really know what to do. According to my teacher’s criteria for
moving to the next stage was the feeling/sensing of a emptied mind but i did not feel any feelings towards thoughts related to the past and ego/personality. So I wanted to move to the last stage which my teacher called emptying the body and subconsciouss thoughts. At this part I think it was probably a translation issue or my teacher probably spoke metaphorically as he gave the instructions (which was translated to english). In the aftermath of all I think he spoke of the sense/feel of what happens in this stage which was similiar to dissecting the body into waves. Or I understood the translation to litterally. I do not know.

I totally did not understand how the last stage was supposed to be done so I got even more confused and thought all that I did was totally wrong. As of today I do think his techniques do work very well on the Korean speaking students emoticon, as they have reported experience of pure conscioussness.

Anyway that was a long story about some other technique. After my visit to Korea I returned back to Sweden. During my time in Korea my health got very bad and for a whole year in Sweden I was recovering from strong stress related issues.

After a while I went to a silent retreat with Adyashanti and we had a talk. I asked about whether I was on the right track and his words somehow resonated with me and he said I was doing fine and needed to relax on being perfection (even though I reflect about what he really said to me it did not give me clear directions of what I need to do). What he said made sense but also did not. But it was ok anyway. His words somehow made me quite aware for a couple of hours and after the reatreat I had a long mindful walk (bodily awareness) and I felt these particle sensations in my body as of before. In this state there was almost no thoughts. I was mostly sensing/being aware of the sensations of walking and the bodily particles.

After a while into the walk I sort of got emotional and I had my first aha-moment. It is as if I knew something before the thoughts of it arising.

The aha-moment or insight that I received was something like this, expressed in words: To find the Truth I need to “let go”/”empty of” everything that is not me.

After this event I felt like I had to continue my spiritual path and looked into meditation techniques that could help me do what the insight told me. So I stumbled upon Vipassana and went to my first 10 day vipassana retreat (Goenka style). The whole technique was very natural for me and I had no problems feeling bodily sensations. My concentration was good. The technique uses strong concentration and moving awareness along the body and being aware of the sensations that arises in a small patch of 5x5 cm area. I had no problem feeling the flow of sensations as I sweep my attention along the body and I also sensed subtle sensations (particle sensations). I also went inside the body in my last couple of day of the retreat. My concentration became so strong that I could sense sensation when the area is as small as the tip of the smallest finger. On several occasions I felt that some kind of purification of the mind occurring as I believe some depression stored in the body got released.

After the retreat I continued the hardcore practice of waking up 4.30 am and practiced to 8.30 pm, for a couple of days, but there was this creeping sensation of not wanting to meditate and thoughts about not meditating arose. I would say some kind of discomfort for a lack of a better word. As I sat in discomfort this sensation was still there, but sometime it was not. I also felt the technique started to get harder to perform as the instructions required. Sometimes I could perform the technique as instructions and sometimes I could not seem to focus my awareness on a part of the body. After a couple of days of practice, as I body-swept (outside and inside the body), my mind (weirdly) also got more and more quite and sensations somehow reduced when i did not do the technique. In one sitting It felt like I was inside my pitch black body. As if my sense of self was inside a dark space inside my body. In this state I asked this question: If everything is impermanent is there anything that is permanent? After this question I sort of went deeper into my body and a fear arised. I think the fear is related to going deeper into my body. After the arising of this fear, particle sensations appeared inside my thighs and left abdomen and radiated out. In contrast to previous experiences of particle sensations, no strong sense of peace arised. After this event meditation has become really
hard to perform according to Goenka-style body sweeping and body patch awareness. At times it is possible to follow the instructions of the technique, and at times I have to sort of hold my breath (to strengthen my concentration) to feel sensations in the body. It also feels like the “body patch awareness”-part of the technique is almost impossible to perform. Holding my breath and sweeping awarenes along the body is working better but feels very unnatural (I need air). Most of the time when I focus on some patch with my awareness, sensation arises at that patch but some other sensation in other parts of the body also arises and sort of interfere with the awareness of current patch.

After this event meditation practice became extremely hard to perform according to instructions so part of the time I just try to sit as awareness. At this point my social issues (strong sense of sadness after social interactions with people) somehow got more and more worse as time passess. One day I was so sad and so tired of the this sadness I spontaneously sat down in meditation with the resolve to get rid of this feeling. What I did was to become very aware of all the sensations related to this feeling of sadness and a sort of transformation of the sadness happened. It felt like all piled up emotions of sadness somehow got recognized and sort of got freed out of the bodily system. After this event, the particle sensations, mindfulness and peace happened again. It felt as if the thoughts became less of a pulling force on my awareness. I sort of knew i have thoughts but they did not affect me much. As a result of this my mindfulness was strong and some side effects occurred: I could just purely listen to another person talking to me without mental noise, projecting/radiating love to another person, getting teary from looking at nature or up at the sky and also sense strong emotions from other people (like anxiety). And as a result I also felt that there have been so much resistance to what have been happening in life.

I knew that this state will pass and it did after a couple of weeks. My sadness in social situations is almost gone and when it happens it is not as intense as before. Life is more bearable and at time quite enjoyable compared to before. As of now I am sort of in “normal” state of being, meaning getting lost in thoughts, thinking a lot and sort of in reactive mode with sensations and thoughts. But at some level some change probably happened. I am not sure. I know that it is quite hard for me to get deep depressions. Depressions sort of does not stick to me. I do not mean that I don’t get sad or anything like that but it somehow passes most of the time.

This is what have happened to me so far and I have some specific questions regarding vipassana and progress of insight. I have bought your book and read halfways. As of now I am in the chapter about progress of insight and felt that some of the described events in the book is similar to what I have experienced in my practice/life. I do know that I should not be obseessed about the “weird” experiences that I have had but I feel that I somehow need to ask someone that have experience about these experiences, and can point me in the right direction in my practice.

Questions:
1.
What stage do you think I am at? Did I pass the Arising and passing stage? I refer to the event of being inside my body and feeling the fear.

2.
Have I entered the Dark night and passed it? I must admit that I have not memorized/remembered the details from your book regarding the stages but I think my events does not totally fit 100% into some of the descriptions of A&P and the dark night but there are resemblance.

3.
When I meditate (as described above) I feel that it is very hard to concentrated on a patch of the body because there are at times so many sensations in other parts of the body active at the same time as i try to feel a sensation in a patch of the body. I do think that my concentration is strong. I can focus on a part of my face and focus so strong that it feeel like a strong pressure on the skin. Like the sense that the bone is breaking. I think I have access concentration but not for a long duration like 1 hour. Maybe more like 10 seconds. Should I strengthen my access concentration even more so I have it for a longer duration? Or should I move to a higher concentration stage? Personally I am not interested in psychic powers but more interested in fundamental insight or the absolute truth.

4.
Sometimes when I am aware of a sensation attentively it somehow becomes like pulsating layers of sensations. After that I usually get the feeling of purification has happened. Is that more correct way of practicing? Meaning I give more attention to a certain sensation as compared to goenka-style’s short attention on sensation and then moving to the next body patch? How is it done in the Mahasi-style of noting?

5.
You mention many times in the book that it is important being aware of the sensations fast as they arise and pass away. If I understand it correctly is it the same as saying that I need to have a very strong conentration so that I can see the whole process of a sensation showing up and dissappearing? If my sensations are more solid, does that mean that I lack concentration to observe them in finer detail?

6.
What is best for vipassana: Access concentration for long periods of time or higher concentration states but just being able to sustain for shorter periods of time?

7.
I find it hard to perform goenka-style vipassana due to “interfering” sensations from other parts of the body but also that when I feel a sensation I am thinking also most of the time. Is this a lack of concentration? Sometimes Goenska-style vipassana works well in parts of the body like the head and arms but horribly (do not feel any sensations) in the chest and abdomen area as well as legs. In Mahasi-style vipassana, where there is no moving attention along patches of the body, being aware of some sensation is more natural (less mindnoise). Sometimes it feels very natural and without the problems of the goenska-style vipassana that I mentioned above when I do Mahasi-style vipassana. But I do feel that Goenka-style has a mind purifying aspect but feels at the moment unnatural. In contrast Mahasi style feels more natural but personally I feel sleepy when focusing on the rising and falling of the abdomen, whereas if I focus on the touch of the breath on my nostrils concentration becomes strong. Is it ok to use both techniques as I find one of them more suitable for a specific moment? Can I use Mahasi-style noting but as object use the breath’s touch on the nostrils instead of the abdomen rising and falling?

8.
I find it hard to be aware of thought-sensations. When I have a thought I do feel the effect of the thought in some sensation on the body. That is not the same as seeing the thought as sensation, right? If that is the case I think total separation of awareness from thougth are needed, meaning knowing my true self?

9.
What are the signs of correctly performed Mahasi-style noting? Is it continous mindulness?

End letter

Discussion with Daniel and notes on practice
In the talk with Daniel he said stage 11. Equanimity, If do not remember incorrectly. At the moment of the talk with Daniel I did not finish reading MTCB about Equanimity, so I was not really sure. Now I have read it and some parts of it matches my experiences like feeling of freedom and worries, at least in the beginning of the event of freeing my social issue that I had for more than 20 years. If I have to use a word to describe what I felt after that event i would say that the feeling of eveything is fine/good as it is, best describes the effects of the event. Though now, 2 years after the event I feel more like a normal state human being. I do feel emotions like stress, anger, anxiety, worry etc. 

To tell the truth I am not 100% sure that I am in equanimity. I have read up to equanimity stage in the book but feel I do not remember all details about all stages, but I remember som events that resembles my experience. At the same time the part where Daniel talks about formations are not in my experience as of yet.

I mentioned in the letter that Depression does not stick to me. I do feel that some emotions do stick with me, due to work but somehow goes away after meditation. 

In terms of my practice. It has been very hard to practice as instructions after the event of being inside my body of dark space until the last 3 weeks, whereas I now feel the practice is beings easier again (easier to focus and feel less sensations interfering). 

When it comes to the Equanimity stage where Daniel talks about formations, I find that it is not in my experience. 

When it comes to my practice these past 3 weeks, when I feel the sensations deeply I get a sense of purification or relief. It as as if some pent up emotional stuff getting out.

In terms of time perspective of the events (if that matters). Do not remember the years exactly:
  • Meditation in Korea: year 2011 (spring)-2012 (Fall)
  • First insight: 2014 (Summer)
  • First vipassana retreat: 2014 (Fall)
  • Event inside body: 2014 (Fall) after retreat
  • Event of releasing the more than 20 year social issue: 2015 (spring)
My last questions is also about advice: What should I do next in my practice?

Thanks,
/Lin

RE: Progress of insight and guidance for further practice
Answer
8/29/17 12:03 AM as a reply to BlueSky.
HI! I suggest: Making little painful effort to differentiate techniques, postures and even samatha vs vipassana. I recommend understanding them and keeping them in your toolbox, a place where you can naturally reach for them when the occasion arises. There will be times where there is 'need' to sweep, to note, to simply know, to observe with varying apertures, to focus on a single object, etc. For me, i allow these 'tools' to occur naturally; however I am not sure if they can apply to everyone, but I suggest to try allowing this to happen as it allows for a natural liberation of the mind, letting go or surrendering. Posture to me is simple: comfort vs dull-mindedness. If sitting/lying makes me sleepy at that moment, stand or walk - very effective for accelerating jhana entry and intensity as well. Progress: if it does not impede practice, the answer is always to simply practice. Ask yourself why are you questioning which stage you are at: is it useful? Is it skillful? Is it beneficial to my long-term welfare and benefit? 

Having said that, some of your specific questions piques my curiosity and I am following this hoping some enlightened ones here will provide answers to! :p

RE: Progress of insight and guidance for further practice
Answer
8/30/17 5:51 AM as a reply to BlueSky.
Hi Lin,

I agree with Daniel. Your cutting edge is Equanimity.

It's important to understand that the nanas are not fixed steps, but rather the territory of meditation experiences. So it is totally normal to have the highest stage, for example Equanimity, appear during some sits, but to experience earlier stages as well. It's possible to have more A&P experiences, more Dissolution, more Fear experiences, more Misery experiences, more Desire for Deliverance experiences, etc. It's normal to go up and and down and around and around. The maps make it sound much more orderly and fixed than what happens in real life. So when you are actually sitting, focus on what is actually happening, you can ponder the maps during the day after you sit. emoticon

Your goal is to take the basic sense of Equanimity you have (things don't bother you) and apply it to all experiences during your sits. Equanimity is actually a very hard nana, it begins by being a great relief, but then you have to "extend" equanimity into all your meditation experiences. Pretty soon, you'll begin to see "oh fear is just fear, no big deal, I feel afraid but that's just fear", "oh misery is misery, no big deal, I feel miserable but that's just misery", "oh I have a desire for deliverance, but that's just desiring deliverance, no big deal", etc.

Spend some time and really study the nanas and make notes on how these nanas actually appear in YOUR experience. Everyone is different. It can be challenging to see the nanas in our own experience, because they feel like "me" -- but soon you will see how these "moods and associated thoughts" are actually temporary mindsets that you can KNOW. If you can know them, you aren't them -- they are observed mindsets, not you. This is how you can be equanimous towards them. You feel them completely and intimately, but you don't identify with them. All of us have fear, misery, desire for deliverance... but that is not what we are. We are the knowing that is constant, whereas those experiences come and go.

You will probably unearth some deep psychological fears and paranoia --- that's reobservation. When this nana comes up, be very gentle to yourself. Notice how your mind is freaking out and worried and trying to solve a problem it can't understand. It will show up in a way that is unique to you. This can be a hard nana, but it's the nana where we see how alll of our defense mechanisms are just crude ways of trying to protect ourselves, but these mechanisms are not very skillful. After all, we're just sitting on the cushion, observing our mind and body, the world is not going to end... yet it feels this way during reobservation. So just notice what is happening, notice the mind freaking out, and have some compassion for yourself. Ultimately, it will pass too.

So congratulations, you have touched on Equanimity. Now deepen it and bring equanimity to all experiences, good and bad. Be the knower.

At this stage, it can be helpful to switch to noting practice. Basically, you let your mind and body do what it will do during a sit and you simply note one thing in your experience every few seconds, perhaps on every out breath. Make sure you note all four categories of experience: sensations, emotional urges (attraction, aversion, ignoring), emotional moods, and categories of thoughts. 

If you simply sit with whatever is occuring and note gently and consistently, then you will extend equanimity into all of your experience. At some point sitting will become boring, meaningless, confusing -- that's fine, keep sitting and noting THAT.

Retreats are good once noting becomes a habit.

Working with a teacher or spiritual friend is very very very helpful.

Really studying the nanas and figuring out how they actually apply to your own experience is also very helpful if you plan on using these maps.

And lastly: it's very easy to stop or reduce practicing when things are going well. Some people just meditate to get a dose of Equanimity and stop there. That's fine. Meditation is always available to help you make peace with your problems and find some equanimity. You'll have to decide how much you want to make meditation part of your life. If it is important to you, you should know that consistent and daily practice is required to make progress --- and it's probably years or a decade to really cover most of the 4 Path territory. So if meditation is important to you, just commit to daily practice, taking it step by step, not being in a rush, and really investigate how sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts come and go, but how you are the knower of these things.

Best wishes!

RE: Progress of insight and guidance for further practice
Answer
8/30/17 9:20 AM as a reply to Yilun Ong.
Hi. Thanks for answering Yilun Ong.

In my practice I try to perform Goenka style vipassana, where I go from patch to patch. Sometime when that does not work out well I focus on the sensations that are dominant at the moment. I try to be as aware as I possibly can. This I find is helpful for me at times.  

I will try to maintain a daily practice. That is my goal. 

RE: Progress of insight and guidance for further practice
Answer
8/30/17 9:41 AM as a reply to shargrol.
shargrol:
Hi Lin,

I agree with Daniel. Your cutting edge is Equanimity.

It's important to understand that the nanas are not fixed steps, but rather the territory of meditation experiences. So it is totally normal to have the highest stage, for example Equanimity, appear during some sits, but to experience earlier stages as well. It's possible to have more A&P experiences, more Dissolution, more Fear experiences, more Misery experiences, more Desire for Deliverance experiences, etc. It's normal to go up and and down and around and around. The maps make it sound much more orderly and fixed than what happens in real life. So when you are actually sitting, focus on what is actually happening, you can ponder the maps during the day after you sit. emoticon


These words makes sense to me. I took the stages to literal, as in fixed sequence in one direction.

shargrol:
Your goal is to take the basic sense of Equanimity you have (things don't bother you) and apply it to all experiences during your sits. Equanimity is actually a very hard nana, it begins by being a great relief, but then you have to "extend" equanimity into all your meditation experiences. Pretty soon, you'll begin to see "oh fear is just fear, no big deal, I feel afraid but that's just fear", "oh misery is misery, no big deal, I feel miserable but that's just misery", "oh I have a desire for deliverance, but that's just desiring deliverance, no big deal", etc.

Spend some time and really study the nanas and make notes on how these nanas actually appear in YOUR experience. Everyone is different. It can be challenging to see the nanas in our own experience, because they feel like "me" -- but soon you will see how these "moods and associated thoughts" are actually temporary mindsets that you can KNOW. If you can know them, you aren't them -- they are observed mindsets, not you. This is how you can be equanimous towards them. You feel them completely and intimately, but you don't identify with them. All of us have fear, misery, desire for deliverance... but that is not what we are. We are the knowing that is constant, whereas those experiences come and go.

You will probably unearth some deep psychological fears and paranoia --- that's reobservation. When this nana comes up, be very gentle to yourself. Notice how your mind is freaking out and worried and trying to solve a problem it can't understand. It will show up in a way that is unique to you. This can be a hard nana, but it's the nana where we see how alll of our defense mechanisms are just crude ways of trying to protect ourselves, but these mechanisms are not very skillful. After all, we're just sitting on the cushion, observing our mind and body, the world is not going to end... yet it feels this way during reobservation. So just notice what is happening, notice the mind freaking out, and have some compassion for yourself. Ultimately, it will pass too.


Ok, I see. I will make that part of my practice. I think that makes sense, Though Staying Equanimous in all experiences is quite challenging as I feel that i daily life (in work) I need to react to events happening.


shargrol:
At this stage, it can be helpful to switch to noting practice. Basically, you let your mind and body do what it will do during a sit and you simply note one thing in your experience every few seconds, perhaps on every out breath. Make sure you note all four categories of experience: sensations, emotional urges (attraction, aversion, ignoring), emotional moods, and categories of thoughts. 

If you simply sit with whatever is occuring and note gently and consistently, then you will extend equanimity into all of your experience. At some point sitting will become boring, meaningless, confusing -- that's fine, keep sitting and noting THAT.


My problem with mental noting is that I feel it becomes a little to mechanical for me. I tend to get sleepy and tired. If I, on the other hand senses a sensation deeply, without mental notes, I feel refresehd after practice (or at least not tired and sleepy emoticon). Is it correct if I say that it is possible to note without a mental note (thought) and just observe a sensation as it appears and disappear. That is still noting right? Just not mental noting.

shargrol:
Retreats are good once noting becomes a habit.

Working with a teacher or spiritual friend is very very very helpful.

Really studying the nanas and figuring out how they actually apply to your own experience is also very helpful if you plan on using these maps.

And lastly: it's very easy to stop or reduce practicing when things are going well. Some people just meditate to get a dose of Equanimity and stop there. That's fine. Meditation is always available to help you make peace with your problems and find some equanimity. You'll have to decide how much you want to make meditation part of your life. If it is important to you, you should know that consistent and daily practice is required to make progress --- and it's probably years or a decade to really cover most of the 4 Path territory. So if meditation is important to you, just commit to daily practice, taking it step by step, not being in a rush, and really investigate how sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts come and go, but how you are the knower of these things.

Best wishes!


I practice daily and I am interested in the Truth, even though I have no clue what that is emoticon. I will try to practice daily.

RE: Progress of insight and guidance for further practice
Answer
8/30/17 7:05 PM as a reply to shargrol.
Sounds good.

It's okay if noting should feel somewhat mechanical... but I would be a little suspicious about becoming sleepy and tired. That almost sounds like an avoidance mechanism. Ultimately, your meditation method is up to you. Just make sure that one way of another, you investigate sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts. emoticon

RE: Progress of insight and guidance for further practice
Answer
8/31/17 10:09 PM as a reply to BlueSky.
Lin:
[quote=Is it correct if I say that it is possible to note without a mental note (thought) and just observe a sensation as it appears and disappear. That is still noting right? Just not mental noting.
]

"The practice of mental noting helps keep the mind on the meditation object and prevents you from getting distracted. But this technique is only a temporary crutch. You should stop using the mental notes when mindfulness is strong enough to observe objects without them. If you're not sure whether mindfulness is strong enough, don't worry. In fact, the labels will fall away automatically when no longer useful, so you don't have to make a deliberate decision to stop using them.

Labeling an object with a mental note should not be confused with recognizing and inwardly saying the ordinary name of the object, which is what we do in daily life as soon as we see or hear something. Nor should we confuse mental noting with describing the object further. Mental notes support mindfulness in the early stages by increasing momentary concentration. But even when using the noting technique, we should focus on the actual experience of the object instead of on the label, letting go of the conventional names, associations and meanings that in ordinary life are automatically attached to sense-impressions."

http://www.vipassanadhura.com/howto.htm