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The Middle Paths (2nd and 3rd)

The OTHER couch potato stage

The OTHER couch potato stage
6/8/18 11:12 PM
Hello, it's been many months since I've been here! I hope everyone is doing well.

I'm wrapping up day 7 of a 9-day solo retreat and have spent today in that other couch potato stage: Equanimity. How exactly do you do this very gentle and curious attention that somehow remains strong, but isn't strenuous?

Feel free to just write your answer--but if you want more on what leads to this question, it's below.

I got pretty solidly into Equanimity Wednesday and had some interesting formation-y stuff happen, and even a couple of clear near-misses of 2nd Path as I was lying down. But then all the dramatic strobing turned into faint quivering and stayed that way. A day and a half of efforts to "fix" this "problem" led to quite the interesting Equanimity Mini Dark Night, full of obsessive thoughts that "I'm doing it wrong" and "Maybe if I try it this way instead..." and even "This makes no sense, I should be here but I'm there... time to check the Table of Nanas and Jhanas again." (Thanks, Daniel, for creating MCTB's own Liber 777 emoticon)

Today, these facts finally sunk through my thick skull: Equanimity can't be controlled with effort, and it can't be hacked by the shamatha skills that enable jhana jumping and customizing. Surely it surprises no one that this shift coincides with the end of the EqMDN, or at least the obsessive-mapping phase of it.

Now the pendulum has swung the other way. Earlier today, it was okay to totally drop effort because mindfulness would keep operating automatically, following the daydreams and earworms and noticing how, just like everything else, they (and it) are happening "over there". After a few minutes I'd check back in, make sure mindfulness was still running, then drop the effort again. 

Unfortunately, that didn't last forever. The auto-mindfulness is gone. It's like the teacher wanted to relax so she told a child to watch the other children, but now he's run off to play with them. 

Also unfortunately, this feels totally fine. Once I stopped worrying about it, the drifting turned out to be quite nice. And that's the problem: it would be dead easy to stay lazy and totally blow this retreat. Right? I mean, tell me if I'm wrong, but this really seems to have crossed the line from "effortless awareness" to "lazy unawareness".

On the other hand, I don't want to go back to the early-stage types of effort. They cause something like a headache that seems related to the way selfing creates dukkha. 

So, what to do? How does one sustain effortless mindfulness?

In the meantime, I'll be noting strobing. Since my percepts haven't been strobing for the last day and a half, I'll have to use the digital dreamachine as an actual flickering light. Here's to hoping that still counts!

RE: The OTHER couch potato stage
6/9/18 12:19 PM as a reply to J Adam G.
Hi J,

Would you mind describing the stobing that you experience?


RE: The OTHER couch potato stage
6/9/18 1:33 PM as a reply to Ben V..
Sure. It's like the mind is perceiving things fast enough to observe the framerate of the senses. For vision, that would be like seeing every "frame" of sight fade into consciousness, reach maximum brightness, and then fade to black. So it's sort of like the A&P, except that instead of only being noticeable as "there" and "not there", the strobing is now slow enough to perceive each frame fading in, reaching full power, fading away, then it's gone.  

It can be as slow as 2Hz and as fast as 20Hz. At the higher end of that spectrum it's too fast to notice the fading in and out, so it's back to just "there" alternating with "not there".  

Unlike on first path, this is not happening with the physical senses. It's only happening with their mental echoes, and also with purely mental objects. The physical senses are updating much too quickly to catch the moments of voidness in between. In other words, while those sensations are far from solid, their framerate is too fast to perceive.  

It's very difficult to perceive any visual strobing with the eyes open or any auditory flickering while listening to an actual sound, because the physical sensations are much easier to notice than the mental echoes. But anything seen with the mind's eye, including memories of things I just saw--those flicker. Verbal thoughts, memories of sounds, and the song stuck in my head: all flickering. Same sort of thing for touch.

It's not this clear all the time. There are moments where it's just a faint quivering, and by this I mean that the appearance of the object is much stronger than the disappearance. In this case there's an unsteadiness to the strobing, where the object quivers several times then blinks out for a full mind moment of voidness. Quiver quiver quiver blink. Quiver quiver quiver blink. This quick little cycle happens about 2-3 times a second. So you could divide it up into 2 cycles: the constant quivering at a high speed, let's say 15Hz, together with the full-length blinkouts happening at only 2-3Hz.

RE: The OTHER couch potato stage
6/9/18 6:32 PM as a reply to J Adam G.
Thanks for sharing that.

RE: The OTHER couch potato stage
6/9/18 9:39 PM as a reply to Ben V..
No problem.

After switching from bare observing to verbal noting, it's now pretty clear that there's an even larger-scale cycle going on. After about 10-30 seconds in the "noting is easy" part of equanimity, there's a sudden shift to the "zoning out" part which lasts 20-60 seconds. Then suddenly it's back to an earlier insight stage.

It might go straight back to the "noting is easy" part, and after a few notes the formless fog will return. At other times, it goes all the way back to a low-key A&P then a low-key dark night before returning to equanimity. This takes 20 seconds to a minute and a half before getting back to "noting is easy".

PIM says this is common, especially in meditators who know the maps. The Sayadaw also calls it a sign that path could happen at any time. So I guess there's nothing to do but balance and strengthen, and wait for one of these zone-outs to end in a surprise.

RE: The OTHER couch potato stage
6/10/18 8:19 AM as a reply to J Adam G.
Seems like I experience something similar but in pre-stream-entry territory. I can't really advise you on your higher path but what you say makes sense to me intuitively. When I get in a state where there's stillness and good mindfulness, and that occasional mysterious background pulsing (strobing, in middle of the head basically), I've come to realize the need to note/dismbed from: exitement at getting a path, desire to get more stillness, attempt/efforts to concentrate more, etc. And also falling to earlier stages and having to get back to it by simply remembering to note what is present instead of trying to get something that is not there. 

I think Mahasi Sayadaw, in Practical Insight Meditation, in his section on Equanimity, says something to the effect that knowing about the map intellectually can be an obstacle in this nana, creating anticipations. Of course, he also says to note this anticipation. So it doesn't have to be a huge problem. 

Best wishes in your practice.

RE: The OTHER couch potato stage
6/13/18 10:47 PM as a reply to Ben V..
Update: to correct the record on what I said above, it turns out the classic map traps got me! I thought, "oh no, I fell for those traps in the first cycle. Now I know what they are and won't fall for them again." Haha! Turns out, that was based in a fundamental misunderstanding of the fact that a new insight cycle is truly a NEW insight cycle, meaning that just as my understanding and insight is deeper and wider, so too are the traps. 

Old doctors are fond of telling young ones: "When you hear hooves, suspect horses--not zebras."

It's not the case that equanimity is "the other couch potato stage". There is no other couch potato stage. The couch potato stage is dissolution, and no other.

What seems to have really happened is the high concentration of the retreat setting led to a strong run of A&P.Dissolution all the way thru A&P.Equanimity, which I mistook for the main dark night stages and the main equanimity. (Lesson learned: when they're mild, rapid, and perceived very clearly disturbing concentration, it might not be the full monte.)

This was obviously followed by the main Dissolution, which in its early stage can seem like Equanimity but in its late stage triggers the classic "I can't meditate anymore" experience, which is a very convincing illusion. So I thought I really had reached Equanimity and then fallen back due to meditating badly. Wrong! I fell forward into the next stage despite being mistaken where I was at because the process works even under less than ideal circumstances.

This was later followed by the main Dark Night stages, and as usual I felt the need to reach out and ask for advice in Desire for Deliverance. Thus the original post.

I did not expect to fall for the same tricks a second time. It turns out that they aren't the same tricks! As with all the new insight stages, they have been upgraded to Version 2 and are now much subtler and broader.

Shoutout to Vince Horn for not only nailing down the correct diagnosis but also arguing it persuasively enough to get past my confidence in my mapping ability.

Also, Ben, best of luck! It really is a pretty funny joke, once you get it ;)

RE: The OTHER couch potato stage
6/14/18 12:26 PM as a reply to J Adam G.
Thanks! I can't wait to get the joke emoticon

I do have moments of confusion with the maps. Once I thought I was in dissolution, but my teacher said no it's equanimity. One time I thought I was in equanimity and was told it's more like A&P.
One time I thought I was in dukkha nana and was told no, 3cs.

I any case, my practice is more and more letting what is in this moment be what it is exactly, irrespective of what nana I happen to be in.